CA Water Board Approves Lawn-Watering, Restaurant Restrictions to Fight Drought

Update: The State Water Resources Control Board approved the new restrictions in a vote on Tuesday.

 

The California State Water Resources Control Board will hold a vote Tuesday on several water conservation measures designed to alleviate the state’s devastating four-year drought.

The new rules include prohibitions on lawn-watering and limits on when restaurants can serve water, according to CBS Los Angeles.

“We’re adding some things in like hospitality regulations that restaurants can’t give you water unless you ask, that hotels and motels need to give you the option to not have your sheets and towels washed every day,” Board chairwoman Felicia Marcus told CBS KNX-1070.

The vote comes in the wake of two explosive reports about the seriousness of California’s drought. Last week, NASA senior water scientist Jay Famiglietti wrote in an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times that California has just one year of water supply left in its reservoirs. That report followed a Department of Water Resources snowpack measurement report, which found that the state’s snowpack levels are historically low.

What’s worse, the diverse state seems to shrug off conservation efforts. According to the Sacramento Bee, the state cut its water use by 8.8 percent in January as compared with January 2013. Gov. Jerry Brown, in declaring a statewide drought emergency early last year, had asked Californians for 20 percent.

The Board’s proposed rules would limit the number of times an urban water district customer could water their lawn, to twice a week. Residents would also be prohibited from watering their lawn for at least 48 hours after a rainstorm.

Other rules would forbid restaurants from serving water to patrons unless specifically requested, while hotels would be required to ask customers whether they would like freshly laundered sheets every day.

The Board has acknowledged difficulty in enforcing existing conservation regulations.

An Associated Press survey of a dozen California communities found wide disparities in the way rules are enforced. Last summer, the Board created a $500 fine as a hoped-for deterrent against the most egregious violations, but the AP survey found that the hefty fine was almost never handed out. The fines skewed disproportionately towards wealthy cities.

For example, Los Angeles County, where 17.9 percent live below the poverty line and 48.3 percent of residents are Hispanics, reportedly issued 5,000 warning letters to water wasters but only handed out two $200 fines in 2014.

In contrast, water wasters in northern California’s San Ramon and Dublin got slapped with $40,000 worth of fines. In San Ramon, where 77.5 percent of residents are either white or Asian, 63.5 percent of its residents make more than $100,000 each year. In Dublin, 75.2 percent of its residents are white or Asian, while only 2.9 percent of its residents live in poverty.

“We are not seeing the level of enforcement we need to,” Pacific Institute water program director Heather Cooley told the AP. “Without it, you aren’t getting the same amount of water savings.”

But Board chairwoman Marcus believes the success of conservation is not contingent on heavy fines.

“Enforcement doesn’t mean just fines,” Marcus told CBS. “The key issue is not a fine, they key issue is that the agency is out there in relationship and communicating with consumers, giving them the information they know.”

Meanwhile, as the Board considers the restrictions, the Metropolitan Water District has suspended recreational boat launches at what is perhaps the state’s most crucial backup reservoir, Diamond Valley Lake in Riverside County. According to NBC Los Angeles, the lake is down to just 48 percent capacity.


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