State Regulators Approve Fines for Water Wasters During the Drought

Amid California's "drought of historic proportions," according to State Water Resources Control Board Chairwoman Felicia Marcus, regulators have passed tough restrictions on outdoor water usage that, in some areas of the state, account for more than half of residents' daily water use. "Many urban water users don't realize how bad this drought is. They're not seeing the communities that are actually running out of water. [...] They don't see the streams and creeks running dry."

In an effort to ramp up conservation efforts, the board drafted emergency regulations that prohibit the overwatering of lawns and landscaping that causes runoff into sidewalks or streets, the washing of sidewalks and driveways, using a hose to wash a vehicle unless the hose has a shut-off nozzle, and using a decorative water feature or fountain unless the water is recirculated. The regulations take effect immediately and will remain in effect for nine months.

A violation of any of these regulations is punishable by fines up to $500 per day, and tickets can be written by any public employee empowered to enforce laws. While $500 might seem steep to some, the fine is a daily maximum and most cities are likely to operate on a sliding scale, starting with a warning at first and then increasing the fine for repeat violations.

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Residents are not the only ones being held accountable for water waste, however. Municipal water agencies must implement water-shortage contingency plans that place mandatory restrictions on outdoor water use, or require their residents to cut down on outdoor irrigation to no more than two days per week. Agencies that don't comply can face fines of up to $10,000 each day.

So far, the rules don't apply to indoor water usage such as laundry or dishes, but some individual water districts have asked or required their communities to reduce overall water consumption.

The restrictions were passed after the board's recent survey of state water suppliers, which serve 25 million Californians. They found that current voluntary and mandatory conservation efforts since Governor Jerry Brown's emergency drought proclamation have resulted in only a 5% decline in water use through May. Governor Brown is seeking at least a 20% reduction.

To do your part in conserving water around the home, here are a few ideas:

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