California Adopts Emergency Measure To Reduce Outdoor Residential Water Use

By Carolyn Whetzel  

July 16 — California water officials approved a temporary drought-related regulation allowing local law enforcement and water agencies to impose fines of up to $500 a day for using water to wash down driveways and sidewalks and overwater lawns.

Adopted by the State Water Resources Control Board at a meeting in Sacramento July 15, the new regulation establishes minimum standards for outdoor water use in urban areas.

The water conservation measures largely mirror the proposal the SWRCB released July 8, which the state said is needed after a survey of 276 water agencies showed residential and business use of water increased 1 percent in May, compared to a three-year average from May 2011 to May 2013.

In January, Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed a drought emergency declaration setting a statewide 20 percent conservation target.

Measure Needed Because of Drought

SWRCB Chairman Felicia Marcus said the emergency conservation measure is needed, given the results of the survey and the gravity of the drought.

“The fact is, not everyone in California realizes how bad this is and how bad it could become,’’ Marcus said.

Under the regulation, urban water agencies must prohibit the use of potable water for:

  •  washing down sidewalks and driveways,
  •  overwatering lawns and landscapes so that it causes runoff to streets and gutters,
  •  using a hose without a shut-off nozzle to wash motor vehicles and
  •  using water in decorative fountains unless the water is recirculated.

    The measure includes an exception for health and safety circumstances and exempts the washing of solar panels, which is necessary to maintain their effectiveness.

    Many Cities Already Have Restrictions

    Many cities and water suppliers already have imposed restrictions on the outdoor use of water, but more can be done, the state water board said.

    Basically, the emergency measure requires large water suppliers to implement their “Water Shortage Contingency Plans,’’ requiring mandatory restrictions on outdoor water use. Water agencies without such plans must limit outdoor watering to two days a week.

    Local agencies are free to use their existing authorities and processes to enforce the restrictions, but the measure also allows them to ask courts to fine water users up to $500 a day for violations.

    The state water board could bring enforcement actions against water agencies that fail to comply with the regulation, with fines of up to $10,000 a day.

    SWRCB's governing board voted to adopt the regulation following a public hearing where most water agencies supported the conservation measure.

    Plan Takes Effect in August

    Following the comments, the water board made last minute changes to clarify the scope of the regulation, which will likely become effective Aug. 1 after it is submitted to the Office of Administrative Law.

    Marcus and other members of the governing board urged water agencies, businesses and individuals to go beyond the requirements of the measure.

    The measure will remain in effective 270 days, but can be renewed, if needed.

    “We believe the State Board is doing what is necessary to address this deepening drought crisis,’’ Timothy Quinn, executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies, said in a July 16 written statement. “These are extraordinary times, and we needed extraordinary measures above and beyond efficiencies already built into our system. Asking California's urban water users to conserve water now will help preserve the water supplies we'll need if this drought continues in 2015.’’

    Metropolitan Water District of Southern California General Manager Jeffrey Kightlinger said the emergency measure “is a tailored, effective step in managing’’ the drought. The regulation “respects the different local approaches to conservation management and reflects the seriousness of a drought that has yet to end,’’ Kightlinger said in a July 16 written statement.’

    To contact the reporter on this story: Carolyn Whetzel in Los Angeles at

    To contact the editor responsible for this story: Greg Henderson at