The California State Water Resources Control Board on Tuesday voted unanimously to approve new water regulations mandating a 25% reduction in statewide water use.
The plan, rewritten several times over the past few weeks, calls for the 400 water agencies in cities and communities across California to cut water use by a specific percentage based on the amount of water used by each. State water regulators had prepared the plan under the direction of Gov. Jerry Brown’s executive order.
Tuesday’s vote came after state data released the same day showed how hard California will have to work to meet Gov. Brown’s target. According to the Los Angeles Times, the data revealed Tuesday shows that Californians’ water conservation totaled just 8.6% over last summer, a far cry from the 25% mandated by the new regulations. Furthermore, Californians managed to use just 3.6% less water in March than in March 2013, the year the state has set as its benchmark.
“It’s a collective issue we all need to rise to. I keep thinking that we are in some stages of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross,” State Water Resources Control Board chairwoman Felicia Marcus told the Times, referring to the five stages of grief.
“Now we have absolute numbers. We know where we stand and where we have to go,” Environmental Water Caucus spokesman Connor Everts told the paper. “This is the starting gun. Right now we’re scared. Right now we’re in the denial stage. We have to get into acceptance, and we have a relatively short period of time to do it.”
While water agencies are authorized to adopt strict penalties for those who waste water, Tuesday’s data shows that agencies handed out just 682 fines over the last several months, despite fielding at least 10,000 complaints.
The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP) and the city of Santa Cruz have both been relatively lenient on water wasters to this point; according to the Times, DWP issued just 13 penalties on a total of 1,215 complaints. Santa Cruz allowed water wasters to attend “water school” in lieu of paying hefty fines.
“The goal of the enforcement work is not to issue fines, it’s to work with the supplier and see if there’s other steps that can be taken to get savings up,” water board staff scientist Max Gomberg told the Times.
The new water rules will affect each of California’s cities disproportionately; for example, San Francisco was ordered to cut water use by just 8%, while Beverly Hills must comply with a strict 36% cut. Los Angeles must slash use by 16%. The Board was forced to rewrite the regulations several times after receiving hundreds of complaints from residents and businesses throughout the state.
Despite approving the new regulations, the Board will reportedly monitor local water agencies to ensure they are keeping up with conservation targets. If conservation goals are not met, the Board will meet with struggling agencies to ensure they are doing all they can to encourage water use reductions.