Update 5/18/16:

As expected, California lawmakers have officially approved a switch that would see the establishment and enforcement of water conservation goals shift back into the hands of local urban districts from the state. Enacted in 2015, California's statewide conservation order required individual districts to reach savings of at least 20 percent. In some particularly parched areas, the mandate was set as high as 36 percent.

As the San Francisco Chronicle notes: "State officials, who approved the change late Wednesday afternoon, said they neither want nor expect communities to abandon their recent conservation successes. They’re just trying to eliminate needless rules in areas that have more than enough water thanks to El Niño-driven rains this past winter."

As California enters its fifth year of a prolonged and particularly punishing drought, the state’s two largest reservoirs, Oroville and Shasta, are at more than 90 percent capacity.

In recent months, El Niño has dumped buckets and buckets of rain — sweet, glorious rain — upon the northern half of the state.

Just one year after plummeting to an all-time low, Sierra Nevada snowpack levels have enjoyed a remarkable rebound, according to National Geographic.

There are whisperings of loosened usage restrictions and relaxed conservation targets.

Some of California’s most egregious water hogs are sleeping a bit easier with the knowledge that their days of fine-carrying public persecution may soon be coming to an end.

And residents who have made a conscientious decision to cut back, whether it be by bidding adieu to their lush front lawns or simply minding the duration of their morning showers, are patting themselves on the back for a job well done: between June 2015 and March 2016, Californians reduced water usage by 29.3 percent compared to the same months in 2013.

Yet California isn’t out of the woods yet. In fact, the state is far from it.

Despite all the rain, snow and encouraging conservation figures coming out of the Golden State, this isn’t a time for high-fives, victory laps or massive Slip ‘N Slide parties. Things are far from ideal considering that 90 percent of the state is still suffering through moderate to severe drought conditions. But things are looking better. Better, but not ideal.

This all said, the water situation is California may never be ideal again. And so, instead of celebrating or reverting back to old and perhaps less sagacious ways, it’s time for Californians, following a recent executive order issued by Gov. Jerry Brown, to face a new reality where water conservation isn’t a temporary emergency measure but a way of life; a reality where the drought may get better at times but will never, ever fully go away.

“Californians stepped up during this drought and saved more water than ever before,” said Brown in a press statement announcing Executive Order B-37-16. “But we now we know that drought is becoming a regular occurrence and water conservation must be a part of our everyday life.”

So that nothing is left unclear as to its purpose, the order has been appropriately titled “Making Water Conservation a California Way of Life.”

Waste-eliminating no-brainers will stick around

So how, exactly, does Brown envision water conservation becoming a part of everyday life?

For one, the State Water Resources Board-approved drought-time no-nos established in March 2014 as temporary restrictions but elevated to the status of fine-carrying infractions just a few months later, aren’t going anywhere. Viewed as draconian by some Californians (you can pry my hose from the cold dead hands) and not extensive enough by others (bring it on!) when they first took effect, these formerly short-ish term emergency measures that encouraged conservation and prohibited wasteful practices are now, per the executive order, permanent.

Verboten activities include:

  • Cleaning/clearing off a driveway, sidewalk, or other hard surface by spraying it with a hose.
  • Washing a car without an automatic shut-off nozzle attached to the hose.
  • Overwatering a lawn or garden to the point where runway water seeps into a sidewalk, driveway, neighboring property, or non-irrigated area.
  • Watering a lawn within 48 hours of measurable precipitation.
  • Operating a decorative fountain or water feature that doesn’t recirculate water.
  • Irrigating ornamental grass traffic medians

Stiff fines are still involved if residents or businesses are caught defying these restrictions.

While some of these newly forever forbidden activities may never stick with some Californians, they’re all common sense, really, and don’t take that much effort or adjustment for anyone attempting to eliminate water waste.

But really, how hard is it really to wait a couple of short days after a big rainfall before turning on the sprinklers again? Or how hard is it fork over a few bucks for a decent shut-off nozzle at Home Depot?

Not hard at all, really. (Enforcing some of these restrictions, however, is a whole different story).

While many individual cities and communities in California and beyond have established their own waste-curbing water rules, these permanent statewide restrictions offer a basic blueprint for other areas looking to conserve in earnest. They’re no-brainers that every state, no matter how flush with water it may be, should consider enacting on a permanent basis. After all, water waste, even when there’s plenty of water to waste with, shouldn't be the norm.

Conservation targets handed back to local districts

In addition to rendering waste-minded emergency regulations permanent, Brown’s executive order does indeed reflect the improved state of affairs when it comes to water supplies in some parts of the state.

Moving forward, individual water districts across California will no longer be subject to mandatory, state-issued conservation targets and will, once again, be given the freedom to set their own realistic usage reduction goals based on local water supplies and other factors. This aspect of the executive order is viewed as welcome news in water districts that are blessed with ample rainfall and found the statewide mandates too severe. On the other hand, some environmental groups were disappointed that the order eases the mandates.

Not surprisingly, local agencies will continue to be required to report back to the state each month with detailed information regarding conservation, usage and enforcement under the executive order. Local water suppliers also must work with the state in the development of long-term drought resiliency plans and update or draft efficiency-minded agricultural water management plans.

Essentially, the state's once-tight grip on these agencies has been loosened but not fully withdrawn. It's doubtful that it ever will be.

“This is not a time to start using water like it's 1999,” explained Felicia Marcus, chairwoman of the State Water Resources Control Board during a recent news conference. “We need to keep conserving all we can, whenever we can.”

Via [Los Angeles Times]

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.