California Governor Brown hears business concerns about drought plan

By Sharon Bernstein SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) - California Governor Jerry Brown on Thursday promised to consider the concerns of businesses affected by his order to cut urban water use by 25 percent as the prolonged drought in the most populous U.S. state drags into its fourth year. Brown, a Democrat, met Thursday with representatives from businesses that would be affected by California's first mandatory cutbacks in urban water use, including swimming pool builders, cemetery operators, landscapers and water providers. "We shouldn't be shutting down particular industries," John Norwood, president of the California Pool and Spa association said after the meeting. Several cities and water districts, he said, have imposed restrictions on filling and building new swimming pools, effectively killing the businesses of contractors who design and install them. Norwood said that pools, once filled, use less water than the lawns they typically replace. "People put in outdoor kitchens, seating areas, pools - it all replaces the lawn," he said. Brown, speaking with reporters after the meeting, said he had learned from the business leaders' presentations, including a tip from Norwood about a chemical that he said can slow evaporation from pools. Asked about his decision to exempt agriculture from rationing, Brown said farmers have already been forced to cut back, fallowing fields and laying off workers after their access to water from reservoirs, rivers and the San Joaquin-Sacramento River delta was reduced. "Farmers, when they get no more water, they're wiped out," said Brown, whose plan does not require such cutbacks from agriculture. Persuading city residents to use less water on ornamental lawns is an easier way to conserve, he said. Brown said he would not consider pushing farmers who grow water-intensive crops such as almonds or alfalfa to switch to something else. "That's a big brother move," Brown said. On Friday, the state is expected to release a detailed proposal for implementing the urban water cutbacks. Water utilities and cities have already lined up to complain about a less-detailed version of the plan released last week, which requires areas that use more water per capita to implement the biggest cutbacks. The state plans to lean on water utilities to make the cutbacks, deciding at the local level such details as how much to charge, or whether to hold businesses to the same standard as residents. Water districts that do not comply with the order will face fines, which they may pass on to residents and businesses. (Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Ken Wills)