- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 19, 2017

California’s decision to extend drought restrictions despite historic rain and snow has met with splashback from some waterlogged residents.

The State Water Resources Control Board voted to keep the cutbacks in place at its Feb. 8 meeting, much to the shock of Californians grappling with flooding, mudslides, flash floods, sinkholes and torrential downpours.

“I’m imagining they announced this while using their snorkels,” cracked Mark Larson, talk-show radio host at KCBQ-AM in San Diego.

Republican state Sen. Ted Gaines said residents need a “sanctuary from unelected bureaucrats who won’t call off the drought when people are all but having to canoe to work because of the rain.”

“This decision is blind to the plain fact seen on every mountain, river and reservoir in the north state,” Mr. Gaines said in a statement. “We are flush with water, and they know that, but this lays bare their ‘permanent drought’ plan that will let them limit and control water use forever to meet their environmentalist agenda.”

For consumers, the drought restrictions have translated into higher water prices even as the state grapples with another round of devastating storms.

A storm system described as one of the strongest in years rocked the California coast Friday from San Diego to Santa Barbara, depositing 10 inches of rain in some areas and leaving seven people dead, the Weather Channel reported.

Another downpour was expected to slam Northern California as well as Oregon and Washington starting Sunday and continuing through Tuesday.

The Sierra snowpack and nearly all of state’s 10 largest reservoirs were above their historical averages as of Friday, according to the California Department of Water Resources.

The U.S. Drought Monitor shows less than 1 percent of California was under “extreme drought” as of Feb. 14, compared with 61 percent of the state a year ago. About 24 percent of the state remains afflicted by “moderate drought,” as opposed to nearly 95 percent last year.

Poway Mayor Steve Vaus called for the state board to give localities more control over water restrictions, saying the San Diego Water Authority has done a “terrific job” in “making sure that we’ve got plenty of water for the future.”

“They declared the drought over. The state at this point really just kind of needs to get off our grass and let us do what’s best for San Diego,” Mr. Vaus told KUSI-TV in San Diego. “Poway’s done a great job. We need to be in control of our own destiny.”

The East Municipal Water District voted Wednesday to ease some of its water restrictions after calling on Gov. Jerry Brown to end the drought emergency and focus instead on long-term efficiency standards, saying the extension threatens to erode the public’s confidence.

“Like all Californians, EMWD customers responded with record-setting conservation because they understood that we were in an unprecedented emergency,” said district President David Slawson. “As we are no longer facing such critical conditions, it is equally important that we adjust our policies so that we can maintain public trust.”

But other water managers said it’s too early to declare the drought over.

“We welcome this winter weather, but one good year of rain does not erase six years of drought,” David H. Wright, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power director, said in a statement after the board’s decision.

Mr. Brown enacted in April 2015 mandatory drought restrictions requiring local water districts to meet conservation goals. In May, he eased the cuts, instead requiring agencies to prove they had enough water to withstand three dry years in order to avoid the mandatory cuts.

By all accounts, the regulations were a success: The state’s cumulative water savings from June to December registered at 22.5 percent.

The restrictions were set to expire Feb. 28, and the board said it would consider repealing the regulations in May.

Felicia Marcus, who chairs the state water board, said it would be “most prudent to wait a bit longer until close of the rainy season and take stock of the statewide situation and decide what to do next.”

“We are beyond happy that water conditions continue to improve this year, but the rainy season isn’t over yet and some areas of the state continue to suffer significant drought impacts,” Ms. Marcus said in a statement. “As glorious as the first half of the season has been, we know that weather can change quickly, and vary depending on where you are.”

The decision won praise from environmental groups like California Waterkeepers, which praised the board’s move as “smart,” citing lingering drought conditions in some areas.

Meanwhile, rice farmer Kurt Richter accused the agency of partisanship, saying the “absurd” decision “showed everyone in the state that they’re not even trying to be subtle with their political agenda anymore,” while tech consultant Robert Dolezal mocked California drought “deniers.”

“#CAdrought over,” Mr. Dolezal said on Twitter. “Jerry call off the hounds.”

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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