California Passes Drastic Water Restrictions Effective August 1st

by on July 15, 2014 · 12 comments

in California, Culture, Economy, Environment, History

 Fines of up to $500 for watering gardens or washing cars – Southern Calif water use actually increased 8% since Gov. Brown declared emergency in January

By Ian Lovett / New York Times / July 15, 2014

With rainfall this year at historically low levels and reservoirs quickly dwindling, California officials on Tuesday approved the most drastic measures yet to reduce water consumption during the state’s increasingly serious drought, including fines of up to $500 per day under some circumstances for watering a garden, washing a car or hosing down a sidewalk.

The new measures come in response to an apathetic public that has ignored repeated pleas to save water since Gov. Jerry Brown declared a statewide drought emergency in January. Though the governor asked all Californians to reduce their water consumption by 20 percent, water use actually increased by 1 percent statewide in May, according to a state survey released Tuesday.

“People really don’t understand the gravity of the drought, particularly in urban California, where people are hundreds of miles from their water source,” said Felicia Marcus, chairwoman of the State Water Resources Control Board, which voted on Tuesday to impose the new regulations. They are expected to take effect around Aug. 1.

Persuading people in urban areas to take the drought seriously has proved difficult, Ms. Marcus said. “They’re not seeing the fact that there are communities on the verge of running out of water all the time,” she said. “We can’t afford to let any more areas get into that situation.”

While none of the state’s 10 hydraulic regions have conserved as much as the governor asked for, most cut back at least 5 percent in May. The biggest exception is the South Coast region, which includes the Los Angeles and San Diego areas, as well as Orange County. There, water use increased 8 percent over previous years.

After a lengthy hearing on Tuesday, the water control board imposed a series of mandatory restrictions on the use of potable water that will limit outdoor watering to two days a week, largely prohibit washing sidewalks and driveways, and ban washing cars without a shut-off nozzle on the hose. Violations may be punished with fines of up to $500 per day.

The drought has already pummeled farmers in California, which is home to the nation’s largest agricultural sector. So far this year, about a third less water than usual has been available to the state’s farmers, according to a report released Tuesday by the Center for Watershed Sciences at the University of California, Davis. The report projected that the drought would cost about $2.2 billion in statewide revenue this year, and that 17,100 farm-related jobs would be lost.

Richard Howitt, an environmental economist at the university and an author of the report, said that while much of the state had been able to deal with the drought economically, parts of the Central Valley, the state’s agricultural heartland, were being hit hard. Huge portions of farmland have been left unplanted.

“In certain parts of the Central Valley, it’s extremely bad,” Mr. Howitt said. “And if you’re one of the 17,000 people who lose their jobs, it’s extremely bad.”

The report projected that the drought would continue through 2015, even if this fall brings El Niño conditions, which sometimes lead to heavy rainfall.

Ms. Marcus said that California could not count on the drought’s letting up, and that it was important to increase conservation measures right away. “There has been a misapprehension that El Niño will save us,” she said. “The key lesson is acting earlier.”

Before the vote on Tuesday, only about 30 percent of the water suppliers in the state had imposed mandatory restrictions. Now, various kinds of outdoor water use — like fountains that use potable water that is not recirculated — will be banned outright.

Officials estimate that half of residential water use in the state is outside the home. And if the new measures fail to produce results, Ms. Marcus said, even stricter restrictions on outdoor water use could be adopted.

Some water suppliers complained that the new rules would unfairly hit residents who had already worked hard to cut back. Agriculture accounts for about 75 percent of water use in California, but the board’s regulations target use by urban Californians.

Mark Madison, general manager of the Elk Grove Water District near Sacramento, said his customers had already reduced their water consumption by more than 18 percent. Imposing fines for water waste is like asking him to “thank them with a sledgehammer,” Mr. Madison said. “I think, in general, the approach is heavy-handed.”

Lisa Brown, the water efficiency administrator for Roseville, Calif., echoed his concerns. She said that during a less severe drought in 2009, her city had issued hundreds of tickets to people wasting water and found that it was not an effective strategy.

“We find if we cite them, they turn off their irrigation just to get us off their case,” Ms. Brown said, “but as soon as we leave, they turn it back on again.”

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Tyler July 16, 2014 at 6:36 am

Glad they are doing something but I take it the old water rights contract holders are still allowed to guzzle as much as they want?


Aging Hippie July 16, 2014 at 7:03 am

Nowhere is the information available about which days you can water. I have seedlings out that will die without water every 2 days or more.


Frank Gormlie July 16, 2014 at 12:37 pm

Too soon to know; each water district will set its own rules and timetables. Goes into effect on August 1.


Louisa July 16, 2014 at 11:37 am

I think water consumption increased because people have already cut back. They have already installed low flow toilets. They already turn the water off when they brush their teeth. Those who will have already installed low water use landscapes. When was the last time you saw anyone washing a car with a hose not fitted with a shut off mechanism?

But in years of drought, one must water landscapes, especially trees, to keep them alive. Does that increase in water consumption only include urban users? Or is that including farmers as well?

There are some crops which just should not be farmed in California. Like rice, for example. Yet, California is a major rice producer. I’d also like to see the end of golf courses in dry areas, but that’s just me. I think those golf courses are a tremendous waste of space, water and energy for just a few people who want to play a kind of silly game.


John July 18, 2014 at 9:11 pm

You bet. For several years San Diego City code has specified you can only wash cars with a hose with an automatic shut off. I haven’t seen anyone hosing off a sidewalk in years, but I did used to quickly hose off bird droppings from my patio after dry sweeping it first. Thats a good sanitary practice. I can’t help but feel this is the typical thing we get from elected officials- gestures to make it appear they are addressing an issue that would take real vision and political risk to finally solve. In this case probably a national aqueduct/pipeline system the scale of the national highway system, to transfer water from areas with excess rainfall to areas in drought. Some of our land is the most fertile on earth, it would pay for itself in reduced lost agriculture and probably open up more for growing after irrigation.


Frank Gormlie July 16, 2014 at 11:46 am

I scanned today’s U-T article on this and could not find the 8% figure – the amount of water usage that has increased since January in So Cal.


Debra July 21, 2014 at 9:03 am

I guess I’m the only one wondering why it was such a good idea for the county board of supervisors to squander *FIVE MILLION* of our tax dollars, on that new “FREE” water park, downtown. True, it’s supposed to be “recycled” water however, it still has to be replaced due to evaporation. I noticed there’s a huge grass lawn which obviously needs to be watered, too. This also meant the elimination of the parking lot and it’s my understanding that there will soon be a rate increase on the existing parking. Hard to take a drought seriously, when you see such shenanigans…plus the fact that when we decrease the use of water, it’s NOT reflected on our bills.


OB Dude July 21, 2014 at 10:19 am

Nope….you are not the only one wondering.

And building continues in CA even though there is not enough water


Aging Hippie July 21, 2014 at 12:04 pm

If we really cared about conservation, we would force water agencies to bill by the gallon or the liter, rather than 100 cubic feet (748 gallons!) at a time.

By using such a huge unit of measure and always rounding up, water agencies are able to charge an effective price for water of 150% of the stated rate. But this “trick” to increase their revenue and rip off their customers also means that almost no combination of conservation measures will lower your water bill. So if you are using 1.6 HCF a month, and you take drastic measures to reduce your use by 25-30%, you will use 1.1 HCF, and your bill will be exactly the same.


Anne S Lane July 23, 2014 at 2:32 pm

Which days am I allowed to water outside and what is the maximum length of time for me to water in each section of my yard? Are there any restrictions in the mandatory water restrictions in my home?
I really want to know so I can apply the guidelines.
Many thanks for an email response as soon as possible.
Thank you I am grateful for your assistance.


Susan Escobar July 24, 2014 at 10:24 am

Yes, please let us know so that we can set up our automatic sprinkler systems to be in compliance with the newest restrictions. August 1 is right around the corner!

I agree that golf courses are a huge waste of water. Our neighborhood parks have acres of dead grass while affluent golfers enjoy lush greens during this period of extreme drought. Why don’t they have to cut back on water usage?
I also think that fines for water wasters are important for community morale. While most of us have sacrificed our lawns and plants to comply with water restrictions, there is always a neighbor or two who flaunts the law, watering their marshy yards daily and allowing hundreds of gallons of water to gush into the street gutters. It is difficult to see such behavior go unpunished.


John July 27, 2014 at 9:11 pm

I can’t imagine that happening too often with the cost of water, at least not intentionally. If i had a significant faucet leak the property manager was all over me as soon as he got the next bill. What you’re suggesting is a stiff penalty for people throwing away money. The act is costly enough and most of those you’d punish would be accidental mistakes.


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