California’s drought isn’t over. Why are so many water agencies ending mandatory conservation?

Coachella Valley residents have slashed their water use nearly 25 percent over the past year in response to California’s historic drought. Now they face a new conservation mandate: zero percent.

No, the drought isn’t over: The entire state is abnormally dry and 43 percent of it suffers from “extreme” or “exceptional” drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. But with California’s reservoirs and snowpack in better shape than last year after a moderately wet winter, Gov. Jerry Brown ordered the state water board to relax the strict conservation targets it imposed last June.

The water board had previously required parts of the Coachella Valley to cut back by as much as 36 percent, compared to 2013 levels. But last month, the board told urban water suppliers to calculate their own targets, based on local water conditions. All six Coachella Valley water suppliers sent their calculations to the state this week, and they reached the same conclusion: The valley’s underground aquifer has more than enough water to withstand several more years of drought, so no mandatory conservation is necessary under the state’s formula.

That also means golf courses — which have been responsible for a quarter of the Coachella Valley’s groundwater pumping in recent years — are no longer legally obligated to use less groundwater.

“This isn’t OK,” said Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute, a water think tank in Oakland. “I just think all of this is the wrong message to be sending.”

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