SACRAMENTO (CBSLA.com/AP) — Gov. Jerry Brown on Tuesday called for $10,000 fines for residents and businesses that waste the most water as California cities try to meet mandatory conservation targets during the drought.
The recommendation was part of a legislative proposal Brown said he would make to expand enforcement of water restrictions.
His announcement came as his administration faces skepticism about his sweeping plan to save water and just hours before regulators were scheduled to release an updated plan assigning each community a water use reduction target.
“We’ve done a lot. We have a long way to go,” Brown said after meeting with the mayors of 14 cities, including San Diego and Oakland. “So maybe you want to think of this as just another installment on a long enterprise to live with a changing climate and with a drought of uncertain duration.”
The governor also said he is directing state agencies to speed up environmental review of projects that increase local water supplies. Mayors have complained that such projects have been delayed by red tape.
Brown’s action will not extend to the construction of dams and reservoirs. A legislative panel on Monday rejected a bill supported by Republicans to expedite construction of water storage projects near Fresno and north of Sacramento.
Last summer, state regulators authorized $500 fines for outdoor water waste, but few cities have levied such high amounts. Many agencies have said they would rather educate customers than penalize them.
The mayors who gathered Tuesday with Brown did not indicate they were seeking higher fines.
Brown said steep fines should still be a last resort and “only the worst offenders” that continually violated water rules would be subject to $10,000 penalties. It was unclear what kind of violations those would be.
His proposal would also provide enforcement power to water departments that currently can’t fine customers.
California is in its fourth year of drought, and state officials fear it may last as long as a decade.
Brown previously ordered a mandatory 25 percent reduction in statewide water use in cities and towns after voluntary conservation wasn’t enough to meet his goals.
The state’s most recent proposal, released last week, calls for water use to plummet by as much as 36 percent in some communities.
The governor’s push for big fines and relaxed regulations on new water-saving facilities surfaced on the same night that state lawmakers rejected pleas from hundreds of cities and water districts to reduce the required cutbacks on water usage, according to KCAL9’s Dave Bryan. Some cities say the targets are unrealistic and possibly illegal.
The Associated Press reports the only big shift in water reduction targets is for San Bernardino, which has now gone from 25 percent cutbacks to 32 percent now will be required to cut water usage by 28 percent, Bryan said.
The current conservation plan is based on per-capita residential water use last summer. Some agencies have offered alternatives that reflect greater demand for water in more arid parts of the state and give credit for conservation efforts before the drought began.
“There are entities like San Diego that are doing a remarkable job on conservation,” city Mayor Kevin Faulconer said in an interview after the meeting with Brown. “We’re investing significant dollars in desalination and wanting to invest significant dollars into water recycling.”
Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin said she was pleased that the governor intended to streamline regulations involving such things as her city’s planned surface water treatment plant and a water recycling facility.
Earlier this month, an appeals court struck down tiered water rates designed to encourage conservation in the Orange County city of San Juan Capistrano, saying rates must be linked to the cost of service.
Brown, however, said the ruling does not eliminate using tiered water rates but added “it’s not as easy as it was before the decision.”
Brown did not release any specific language related to his proposed legislation, and it was unclear whether the Democratic governor had asked any lawmakers to carry it.
Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, was not aware of Brown’s proposal and did not have an immediate comment, her spokesman John Casey said. Claire Conlon, a spokeswoman for Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, also declined immediate comment.
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