In response to the ongoing drought in California, on Tuesday, the State Water Resources Control Board approved an emergency regulation that requires customers and water agencies to conserve water or face possible fines or other enforcement actions.
One part of the new regulation addresses reducing outdoor urban water use, with all Californians expected to stop washing down driveways and sidewalks; watering of outdoor landscapes that cause excess runoff; using a hose to wash a motor vehicle, unless the hose is fitted with a shut-off nozzle; and using potable water in a fountain or decorative water feature, unless the water is recirculated. The regulation makes an exception for health and safety circumstances.
Those violating the regulation could be fined up to $500 a day.
The other part of the regulation requires larger water suppliers to activate their Water Shortage Contingency Plans to a level where outdoor irrigation restrictions are mandatory.
In communities where no water shortage contingency plan exists, the regulation requires that water suppliers either limit outdoor irrigation to twice a week or implement other comparable conservation actions. Large water suppliers must also report water use on a monthly basis to track progress in meeting conservation goals.
Water agencies that don’t comply with the new regulation are subject to a $10,000-a-day penalty.
“We are facing the worst drought impact that we or our grandparents have ever seen,” said State Water Board Chair Felicia Marcus. “And, more important, we have no idea when it will end. This drought’s impacts are being felt by communities all over California … It is in their self-interest to conserve more, now, to avoid far more harsh restrictions, if the drought lasts into the future. These regulations are meant to spark awareness of the seriousness of the situation, and could be expanded if the drought wears on and people do not act.”
According to a recent survey of 276 water agencies, water use actually rose 1 percent in May compared to a three-year average of the same month from 2011 to 2013, with most of the increase being in Southern California coastal communities and in the far northeastern part of the state. However, all other areas of the state showed decreases in water use varying from 5 to 13 percent.
The State Water Board also made a plea for water suppliers, communities and businesses to do even more. For example, water agencies are now being asked to step up their programs to fix leaks and other sources of water loss, use more recycled water or captured storm water and find additional ways to incentivize demand reduction among their customers.
Local conservation efforts continue
On a local level, water conservation efforts continue.
In Grizzly Flat, General Manager Jodi Lauther said water use was down about 9 percent in comparison to last year for the period January to June.
At the Georgetown Divide Public Utility District, Interim General Manager George Sanders said potable water use over the period from March through June was down 10 to 11 percent; irrigation water was down around 20 percent, but the figures are still preliminary because irrigation season didn’t begin until the end of May.
For the El Dorado Irrigation District, water use was down 14 percent compared to last year for the period from February through July 8.
Asked about the new regulation, EID General Manager Jim Abercrombie said he supported the state water board’s action to get other water agencies to do what EID had already done.
“We implemented our drought action plan months ago and have added to it, so this new regulation does not affect us that much,” he said. “I just hope the message is getting through about the need to conserve.” As for fining people for violating the regulation, Abercrombie said fining should be a last resort and EID has been able to handle most instances of customers being out of compliance without having to resort to fines.
A failure to invest
However, not everyone sees the State Water Board’s recent action in a favorable light.
One of those is Thomas Del Beccaro, a San Francisco-based attorney and former chairman of the California Republican Party.
In a July 10 editorial in Forbes Magazine, he noted that, “Rather than serve its citizens, Felicia Marcus, chairwoman of the water resources board, lords over them and states that: ‘I like to say, having a browning lawn and a dirty car is a badge of honor.’”
California has been subject to droughts over the centuries with some lasting up to 20 years, Del Beccaro noted in his editorial. At the same time, the past century has actually been among the wettest of the last 7,000 years, according to Scott Stine, a professor of geography and environmental studies at Cal State East Bay.
Accusing officials of doing nothing but talking, he said “As we all know, the president and others are selling the canard that the current drought is the result of global warming or climate change. The fact that we had decades-long drought years before industrialization doesn’t matter to them as they bloviate over a drought of several years.”
Del Beccaro went on to complain that the state has not invested in any water storage or water delivery systems in the past 40 years even though its population has doubled. At the same time, state politicians propose to spend at least $68 billion on a high-speed rail project that is plagued by lawsuits along with spending $3 billion on a stem cell bond program that has produced nothing but lots of “sleek buildings and gleaming labs” and $2.7 million for a new swimming pool in Calexico near the Mexican border.
“You see for California, which is No. 1 in the country in poverty in no small part because of a lack of water for agriculture, government failure is not only an option, it is standard operating procedure,” said Del Beccaro.
In the meantime, the new emergency regulation is expected to become operational Aug. 1 and remain in effect for 270 days, unless extended by the State Water Board due to ongoing drought conditions.
The State Water Board said it may also revisit the regulation and consider other measures to enhance conservation efforts throughout the state as needed.
Contact Dawn Hodson at 530-344-5071 or [email protected] Follow @DHodsonMtDemo on Twitter.