Drought: California governor seeks fine for water wasters

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California businesses and residents that waste the most water as the state copes with a drought should face $10,000 fines, Gov. Jerry Brown said, as his administration rejected calls from cities to relax its mandatory water conservation targets.

The recommendation was part of a legislative proposal Brown said he would make to expand enforcement of water restrictions.

It came as his administration faces skepticism from some local water departments about his sweeping plan to save water.

Gov. Jerry Brown talks during a news conference after meeting with several California mayors to discuss water conservation at the Capitol in Sacramento, Cali...

Gov. Jerry Brown talks during a news conference after meeting with several California mayors to discuss water conservation at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., on Tuesday, April 28, 2015. Gov. Brown 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. (AP Photo/Steve Yeater)

Later Tuesday, the State Water Resources Control Board released updated mandatory water reduction targets cutting consumption as much as 36 percent compared with 2013. The proposal was largely unchanged from a previous version and did not include the modifications some communities had sought.

"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 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. State water officials on Tuesday toured the High Sierra by helicopter, finding snow at only one of four sites that normally would be covered, said Frank Gehrke, chief of snow surveys for the California Department of Water Resources.

"We'd be flying along at 10,000 feet, where there should be an abundant snowpack this time of year, and it's dry, dusty ground," he said by telephone.

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 board is scheduled to vote next week on regulations to achieve Brown's water saving goals, which call for cities to cut water use from between 4 percent to 36 percent compared to 2013, the year before Brown declared a drought emergency.

Some cities say the targets are unrealistic and possibly illegal. And some Northern California communities say their longstanding legal rights to water protect them from having to make cuts to help other parched towns.

The current conservation plan is based on per-capita residential water use last summer. The board rejected 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," 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."

Caren Trgovcich, chief deputy director of the water board, said regulators are focused on saving as much water no matter where it comes from and proposed alternatives were less likely to meet Brown's 25 percent savings goal.

Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin said she was pleased that the governor intended to streamline regulations for 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.

In a prepared statement, Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, said she was reviewing the proposal but "it's clear that local governments need additional enforcement tools" to conserve water.

Claire Conlon, a spokeswoman for Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, declined to comment.

Gov. Jerry Brown, left, talks with Livermore Mayor John Marchand, right,  and Rancho Cucamonga Mayor L. Dennis Michael, center, during a news conference afte...

Gov. Jerry Brown, left, talks with Livermore Mayor John Marchand, right, and Rancho Cucamonga Mayor L. Dennis Michael, center, during a news conference after meeting with several California mayors to discuss water conservation at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., on Tuesday, April 28, 2015. Gov. Brown 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. (AP Photo/Steve Yeater)

Gov. Jerry Brown talks during a news conference after meeting with several California mayors to discuss water conservation at the Capitol in Sacramento, Cali...

Gov. Jerry Brown talks during a news conference after meeting with several California mayors to discuss water conservation at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., on Tuesday, April 28, 2015. Gov. Brown called for $10.000 fines for residents and businesses that waste the most water as California cities try t o meet mandatory conservation targets during the drought. (AP Photo/Steve Yeater)

Gov. Jerry Brown talks during a news conference after meeting with several California mayors to discuss water conservation at the Capitol in Sacramento, Cali...

Gov. Jerry Brown talks during a news conference after meeting with several California mayors to discuss water conservation at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., on Tuesday, April 28, 2015. Gov. Brown 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. (AP Photo/Steve Yeater)

A valley in the Sequoia National Park normally covered in snow this time of year is seen during an aerial survey of the snowpack done by the Californian Depa...

A valley in the Sequoia National Park normally covered in snow this time of year is seen during an aerial survey of the snowpack done by the Californian Department of Water Resources, Tuesday, April 28, 2015. California is in its fourth year of drought, and state officials fear it may last as long as a decade. State water officials on Tuesday toured the High Sierra by helicopter, finding snow at only one of four sites that normally would be covered, said Frank Gehrke, chief of snow surveys for the California Department of Water Resources. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

Nearly snow barren ridges of the Sierra Nevada are seen near the Sequoia  National Park during an aerial survey of the snowpack done by the Californian Depar...

Nearly snow barren ridges of the Sierra Nevada are seen near the Sequoia National Park during an aerial survey of the snowpack done by the Californian Department of Water Resources Tuesday, April 28, 2015. California is in its fourth year of drought, and state officials fear it may last as long as a decade. State water officials on Tuesday toured the High Sierra by helicopter, finding snow at only one of four sites that normally would be covered, said Frank Gehrke, chief of snow surveys for the California Department of Water Resources. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

A Sierra Nevada lake surrounded by snow barren ridges, that are usually covered in snow this time of year,  are seen during an aerial survey of the snowpack ...

A Sierra Nevada lake surrounded by snow barren ridges, that are usually covered in snow this time of year, are seen during an aerial survey of the snowpack done by the California Department of Water Resources, Tuesday, April 28, 2015. California is in its fourth year of drought, and state officials fear it may last as long as a decade. State water officials on Tuesday toured the High Sierra by helicopter, finding snow at only one of four sites that normally would be covered, said Frank Gehrke, chief of snow surveys for the California Department of Water Resources. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

Frank Gehrke, chief of the California Cooperative Snow Surveys Program for the Department of Water Resources, pushes the survey tube into the snow pack as co...

Frank Gehrke, chief of the California Cooperative Snow Surveys Program for the Department of Water Resources, pushes the survey tube into the snow pack as conducts a manual snow survey at Leavitt Lake near Bridgeport Calif., Tuesday, April 28, 2015. The manual survey was done to check the accuracy of one the states electronic snow survey stations, seen in the background. The manual survey showed the snowpack depth at 62.5 inches with a water content of 25.8 inches in an area that usually has about 250 inches at this location this time of the year. More than 130 electronic snow sensors are operated DWR and other agencies that helps determine the water available to the state. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

Frank Gehrke, chief of the California Cooperative Snow Surveys Program for the Department of Water Resources, passes plants growing through the snow pack whi...

Frank Gehrke, chief of the California Cooperative Snow Surveys Program for the Department of Water Resources, passes plants growing through the snow pack while conducting a snow survey at Leavitt Lake near Bridgeport Calif., Tuesday, April 28, 2015. The manual survey was done to check the accuracy of one the states electronic snow survey stations. The manual survey show the snowpack depth at 62.5 inches with a water content of 25.8 inches in an area that usually has about 250 inches at this location this time of the year. More than 130 electronic snow sensors are operated DWR and other agencies that helps determine the water available to the state.(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

Frank Gehrke, chief of the California Cooperative Snow Surveys Program for the Department of Water Resources, checks the weight of the snow, which helps dete...

Frank Gehrke, chief of the California Cooperative Snow Surveys Program for the Department of Water Resources, checks the weight of the snow, which helps determine the water content, as he conducts a manual snow survey at Leavitt Lake near Bridgeport Calif., Tuesday, April 28, 2015. The manual survey was done to check the accuracy of one the states electronic snow survey stations. The manual survey showed the snowpack depth at 62.5 inches with a water content of 25.8 inches in an area that usually has a snowpack depth of about 250 inches at this location this time of the year. More than 130 electronic snow sensors are operated DWR and other agencies that helps determine the water available to the state. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

Frank Gehrke, chief of the California Cooperative Snow Surveys Program for the Department of Water Resources, checks the depth of the snow pack as he does a ...

Frank Gehrke, chief of the California Cooperative Snow Surveys Program for the Department of Water Resources, checks the depth of the snow pack as he does a snow survey at Leavitt Lake near Bridgeport Calif., Tuesday, April 28, 2015. The manual survey was done to check the accuracy of one the states electronic snow survey stations. The manual survey show the snowpack depth at 62.5 inches with a water content of 25.8 inches in an area that usually has about 250 inches at this location this time of the year. More than 130 electronic snow sensors are operated DWR and other agencies that helps determine the water available to the state. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

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