California adopts water restrictions as drought continues

SACRAMENTO, Calif .– For the second time in a decade, Californians will face mandatory restrictions on their outdoor water use as the state suffers another drought and voluntary conservation efforts have failed.

The rules adopted by the State Water Resources Control Board on Tuesday are soft enough – no watering lawns for 48 hours after a rainstorm or letting sprinklers run on the sidewalk – and could go into effect as soon as the end of the month. The scofflaws could face daily fines of $ 500, although regulators say they expect such fines to be rare, as they were during the last drought.

The action comes as Californians did not respond to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s call for a voluntary 15% reduction in water use from last year. Between July and November, the state’s water consumption fell only 6%.

The new restrictions follow an extremely humid December that state officials say may not continue during the winter months which are normally the state’s wettest. Weather has become more unpredictable due to climate change, and state climatologist Michael Anderson said forecasts show January, February and March could be drier than average.

Previous forecasts did not predict such a wet December, which saw record amounts of rain and snow in many areas. As of mid-December, about 80% of the state was in extreme or exceptional drought conditions. At the end of the month, only about a third were suffering from these conditions, according to the US Drought Monitor which compiles the conditions. Meanwhile, the state’s water resources department said on Tuesday that recent storms will allow hydropower production to resume at the Oroville dam, which was halted in early August due to the lake’s historically low level. .

Despite the rain, significant parts of the state’s water supply system are still under pressure due to extremely dry conditions in early 2021, which caused many of California’s largest reservoirs to drop to record levels and almost record.

“Conserving water and reducing water waste are essential and necessary habits that everyone must adopt as we adapt to these uncertainties and build resilience to climate change, so it now makes sense adopt emergency regulations, ”said Eric Oppenheimer, deputy chief state officer. water board. “We need to be prepared for a continuing drought. “

Northern California was wetter than Southern California in November and retained much more water.

Areas north of the San Joaquin River, including Sacramento and San Francisco, used between 17% and 26% less water than in November 2020, while Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties which account for 55%. % of the state’s population used almost 1% more, according to state data.

Among the uses of water that will not be allowed under the new rules: outdoor watering which results in excessive runoff on the street and sidewalks; use water for landscaping and irrigation for 48 hours after storms that bring at least 0.25 inches (0.63 centimeters) of rain; wash cars with hoses without shut-off nozzles; use potable water to wash walkways, sidewalks, buildings and patios and to clean streets or to fill decorative fountains or lakes.

There are a few exceptions. For example, median trees can be watered, unlike grass. The rules come into effect once an administrative review is completed.

Although much of the western United States is experiencing drought, no other western state has enacted statewide restrictions on residential water use. Instead, it’s local governments and water agencies in places like Denver and Las Vegas that set policies on when people can water their lawns. For example, the Las Vegas area has passed restrictions on planting weed, including a ban on front yards, in an effort to conserve water.

California adopted similar restrictions during the five-year drought that ended in 2017, and some cities and local river districts made them permanent. Such restrictions were only part of the state’s conservation approach, which also included incentives for Californians to tear up water-hungry lawns in favor of drought-tolerant landscaping.

Today, California’s overall water consumption is lower than it was when the last drought began. But that makes conservation trickier this time around, as some of the simpler measures have already been taken. State Water Board officials were unable to say how many of California’s roughly 40 million people are subject to such rules or exactly how much water they expect to save. .

Although the regulations provide for the possibility of fining offenders up to $ 500 per day, fines were rare last time around. The state has no plans to put “water cops” on the streets, Oppenheimer said, but noted that during the last drought, many local water districts have beefed up their staff to monitor retention and compliance.

The state also has a website where individuals can report their neighbors or other people they see breaking the rules. Complaints will be addressed to the relevant local water agency. During the last drought in California, people engaged in what is known as the “shameful drought,” the process of publicly denouncing people who waste water by posting videos on social media.

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