California on Wednesday suspended its mandatory statewide 25 percent reduction in urban water use, telling local communities to set their own conservation standards after a relatively wet winter and a year of enormous savings in urban water use.
The new rules are a sharp change in policy for a state struggling to manage one of the worst droughts in its history. They came after a winter in which El Niño storms fell short of what meteorologists projected — particularly in the southern part of the state — but still partly filled parched reservoirs in Northern California and, more critically, partly replenished the mountain snowpacks that provide water into the spring and summer.
And Californians, responding to an executive order issued in April last year by Gov. Jerry Brown, reduced their use of potable urban water by 24 percent compared with 2013 levels. Officials said they were hopeful that reduction would prove permanent because of changes in water use such as replacing lawns with drought-tolerant shrubs.
The rules do not apply to agriculture, which is covered by different regulations and makes up the bulk of water use in the state. Cuts in supply based on seniority were imposed in the last year. Some of them have been rolled back already as water has become more available.
The rules, adopted by the State Water Resources Control Board, are likely to mean a huge rollback — and in some places, an elimination — of water reduction mandates that have forced people, businesses and governments to curb watering of gardens and lawns, take shorter showers and flush toilets less frequently.
State officials said that the drought, already in its fifth year, was not over and that Californians had to adapt to permanently more arid times because of climate change. Even as officials eased up on the regulations, the state made permanent prohibitions against washing down sidewalks and driveways, using a hose without a shut-off valve to wash cars and banning the use of water on road medians.
Still, officials said that conditions had improved enough that the drastic measures that Mr. Brown announced were no longer needed.