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Emergency Drought Regulations To Remain, Despite Impressive Rainfall

(Photo by Mary via the LAist Featured Photos pool on Flickr)
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With the record rainfall that has been hitting California as of late, the big question is: are we out of the drought yet?

The signs are hopeful. The Sierra Nevada snowpack is measured to be about 170% above normal for this time of year. Practically all of Northern California is no longer facing drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. And local water agencies in Southern California have taken the initiative to say that, yup, we're out of the danger zone, and that emergency state-wide regulations are no longer needed.

This sentiment, however, was countered on Wednesday, when the State Water Resources Control Board announced that it has decided to extend those emergency regulations for at least another three months, reports CBS 13. Before the decision, the regulations were set to expire this May.

This means that local water agencies will still have to report their numbers to the state every month, and that residents are expected to stick with water conversation measures; this includes not watering a lawn within 48 hours of a rainstorm, or hosing off sidewalks, or overwatering a lawn to the point where there's runoff. The regulations also bar homeowners associations from taking action against homeowners who are turning to water-saving methods (meaning you can xeriscape the heck out of your lawn).

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As to why the regulations are still in place, the agency said in a release that, "While many parts of the state have benefited from this year’s rain and snow, other areas continue to experience the effects of drought, including Central Valley communities that still depend on water tanks and bottled water." It also noted that groundwater "the source of at least a third of California’s water supplies, remains significantly depleted in many areas."

And indeed the Drought Monitor shows that, while Northern California is in the clear, much of the southern regions is still mired in moderate to severe drought. The most dire level—"extreme drought"—still exists in parts of L.A. County, Santa Barbara County, and Ventura County.

Officials say that, while things aren't quite as dire any more, water conservation should remain as a precaution. “We’re certainly well-situated compared to previous years, but we’ve learned things can change suddenly. Warm rain or higher temperatures can quickly degrade snowpack,” Felicia Marcus, board Chairwoman, told the L.A. Times.

Some local water agencies aren't exactly happy with the decision. Critics want water conservation to happen at the local level, and they see the monthly reports as being unnecessary. Earlier this week, the Municipal Water District of Orange County said that an extension of regulations would not be needed, as the agency's reservoirs are "overflowing."

“We remain in a drought, but it is no longer an emergency. Not only is it unnecessary, continuing the ‘emergency’ will destroy local leaders’ credibility with their stakeholders," said Wayne Osborne, president of the MWDOC Board of Directors. This argument, that state regulations may contradict public perception, was echoed by others. "It’s not being truthful to tell Californians, when they see rivers rising and reservoirs spilling, that we still have a drought emergency,” state Sen. Jim Nielsen, a Republican who represents a Central Valley farm district, told the Wall Street Journal. Nielsen added that the board's action "is an abuse of an emergency power that was supposed to be used for emergency situations," according to CBS 13.

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But some local water agencies agree with the board's call, saying that water conservation itself is not an emergency action, but a practice that should be commonplace. "“While the emergency has ended, the need to conserve has not,” said Jeff Kightlinger, general manager for The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, according to the Times. “Southern Californians have learned a lot about water conservation during the latest drought. We cannot afford to forget those lessons.”