Sanctions, higher costs considered under California drought plan

By Sharon Bernstein SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) - California may require communities to pay for water according to how much they use and impose sanctions on those who do not conserve, in the state's first-ever mandatory cutbacks in urban water use because of ongoing drought, regulators said Tuesday. The tactics and issues under consideration for a still- developing conservation plan were distributed at a meeting of the State Water Resources Board on Tuesday, just days after Governor Jerry Brown ordered mandatory 25 percent cutbacks in urban water use as the state's devastating drought enters its fourth year. Ironically, the board met as rain fell outside and as snow dropped onto Sierra Nevada mountain peaks that were bare and dry when Brown made his announcement on Thursday. Figures released as the discussion began, in Sacramento, showed that water use among Californians dropped 2.8 percent in February from the same month in 2014, a sharp slowdown from year-on-year decreases of 22 percent in December and 8 percent in January. Officials said the small drop in water use was of concern, but not unexpected, since February is typically a month when little water is used because of winter rains. More important, said water board chair Felicia Marcus, is to make sure conservation increases during the dry summer months. The broad-brush outline presented on Tuesday indicated that regulators would consider requiring tiered billing based on the amount of water that people use, something already in effect in many cities, including Los Angeles. Tiered billing could also affect local utilities, which would pay more for water if they cannot get their customers to conserve beyond a specific target set by the state. Also under consideration would be an enforcement mechanism to sanction utilities if they cannot persuade their customers to conserve, and a requirement that they report usage data to the state. The board also plans to consider how to deal with small water systems, as well as large water users that are not served by urban suppliers. A more detailed framework was expected to be released later on Tuesday. It would be subject to public comment and then voted on by the board in early May. (Editing by Bernard Orr and Steve Orlofsky)