Environment & Science

California board considers fines up to $500 a day for wasting water

Water restrictions being proposed at the the State Water Resources Control Board would fine trespassers $500 a day for overwatering front lawns or washing a car without a nozzle on the hose.
Water restrictions being proposed at the the State Water Resources Control Board would fine trespassers $500 a day for overwatering front lawns or washing a car without a nozzle on the hose.
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California’s city dwellers will have to drop their hoses and shut off sprinklers before water meets pavement under a proposed regulation announced Wednesday, with individuals facing potential fines of up to $500 per day.

The State Water Resources Control Board will consider a suite of measures next Tuesday proposed under the authority of Gov. Jerry Brown’s April executive order. Urban water suppliers would have to move toward mandatory restrictions within 30 days, possibly limiting outdoor watering to two days a week — or face a $10,000 daily fine.

New rules would prohibit people from washing down driveways, washing cars in the street without a shutoff nozzle on your hose or creating runoff over pavement any other way. 

State Water Resources Control Board Chair Felicia Marcus said the regulations should serve as a floor for future action, not a ceiling. “I want to be clear that these regulations are not proposing to say what all Californians should do. They’re proposing the least that Californians should do.”
 
Marcus said state officials were encouraging water suppliers to plan for a drier future. “I think it’s prudent to take the long view and assume it’s not going to rain next year, and it’s not going to rain the year after that,” she said.

Individual penalties could run up to $500 a day for violators. If that sounds familiar, its because some Southern California communities, including Los Angeles and Long Beach, already have mandatory outdoor water use restrictions.
 
The regulations, if approved, would certainly be rare and possibly be unprecedented in California history. “We’ve done some water conservation rules in the past,” Marcus said, adding that “I believe this is the first time we’d be doing them on this scale across the board,” and joking that “we’re digging into the boxes from 1977 to refine that answer a little bit.”
 
Gov. Brown had asked for a voluntary 20 percent reduction in water use earlier this year. Since then, some Southern California communities have seen consumption rise: San Diego has experienced a 10 percent increase in water use.
 
Other communities, including Long Beach and Los Angeles, say their water use is down — if very slightly.

The city of Long Beach has had mandatory restrictions since earlier this year, says Kevin Wattier, general manager of Long Beach Water.
 
“Mandatory prohibitions against certain wasteful uses of water is what it takes to reduce consumption, not arbitrary percentage reductions which to most people are not very meaningful,” Wattier said.
 
Since 2009, L.A. has limited sprinkler use to three days a week, before 9 a.m. and after 4 p.m., with each sprinkler head limited to eight minutes. While the L.A. Department of Water and Power has not frequently enforced the financial penalty component of its ordinance, “that will change as we get into summer,” said Penny Falcon, a program manager with the LADWP.
 
Falcon and the DWP’s director of water operations, Marty Adams, said L.A. is still formulating its specific response to the state’s proposed regulations.
 
“It’s surprising that we still have to tell people to do this,” Adams said.
 
Long Beach’s Wattier says he’s pleased about the state’s proposed restrictions. He believes the Metropolitan Water District, a major water wholesaler that serves 26 cities and local authorities including Long Beach, should impose shortage conditions soon too.
 
“It’s very difficult for most local water utility managers to go to their governing board, whether it’s a city council or whoever it is, and impose mandatory restrictions on their customers and constituents and voters if [the wholesaler Metropolitan Water District] has not yet imposed a shortage,” Wattier said. “Quite frankly the state board is taking action that perhaps they shouldn’t have had to take.”
 
Stephanie Pincetl, director of the California Center for Sustainable Communities at UCLA, says the state’s move is overdue. She says it underscores a need to reconsider how Southern Californians value and conserve water.
 
 “We ought to price indoor water use and outdoor water use at different prices,” said UCLA professor Stephanie Pincetl. “Watering your lawn is not the same as brushing your teeth. We’re acting like it’s the same and it’s not.”
 
Marcus acknowledged that proposed regulations would go too far for some and not far enough for others, but she called on urban Californians to rethink their water use outside.
 
“Having a dirty car and a browning lawn should have a badge of honor, because it shows you care,” Marcus said.

This story has been updated.