If the drought continues, state officials have broad powers to order even steeper water restrictions, perhaps including rationing.
This spring, Gov. Jerry Brown ordered urban water users to reduce their demand by an average of 25 percent. Those restrictions expire in February, but limits on water use seem certain to continue past then – even if it rains a lot this winter because of El Niño.
Right now, San Diego has more water available than its water agencies are allowed to sell, so local officials are arguing for the state to loosen the current restrictions. They are keen to know if Californians can quit saving so much water if “more normal” rainfall and snowfall return.
But the State Water Resources Control Board is beginning work on new regulations because it does not expect El Niño to end the drought. These new rules could be anything, including almost exactly what we have now to something stronger. How much stronger that might be, the state board has not said. That’s in part because nobody knows how much rain and snow will fall this winter and in part because the state is trying to limit negotiations to a small group of people.