California towns could face steep fines for overwatering

Lake Mendocino, one of northern California's iconic blue lakes, now largely a dry lakebed due to drought

Lake Mendocino, one of northern California’s iconic blue lakes, now is now

As the heat continues in California, the drought deepens. The conversations and worries about water rationing abound. Many of us have cut back voluntarily, allowing lawns to go brown.

In our 3rd year of severe drought, California regulators are now proposing stringent new conservation measures to limit outdoor water use, including fines of up to $500 a day for using a hose without a shut-off nozzle.

The  State Water Resources Control Board, which made the proposal public on Tuesday, says voluntary measures don’t go far enough.

The proposed regulations are “meant to make people aware and say, ‘This is serious; conserve’,” said agency spokesman Timothy Moran, noting that the rules authorize local law enforcement agencies to write tickets imposing fines.

Sidewalk sprinkler geyserThe new restrictions prohibit watering gardens enough to cause visible runoff onto roads or walkways, using water on driveways or asphalt, and in non-recirculating fountains. Urban water agencies would be subject to daily fines up to $10,000 for not implementing water-shortage contingency plans, which restrict how many days a week residents can engage in outdoor watering, among other limits on their customers.

These new regs constitute the first such statewide mandates for residents and urban water agencies and are subject to public comment. Regulators will vote on the proposal on July 15. If passed, they would take effect in August and remain in place for nine months with the possibility of being extended.

Perhaps these new regulations are a good thing. Having lately done some very informal fact-finding, I’ve discovered that businesses and large apartment complexes either aren’t doing any cutbacks nor do many of them seen to care. Water can be seen, albeit in the early morning when few are around to see, gushing down the street from long-term watering sessions. And too many homeowners turn a blind eye as their sprinklers routinely water the street and sidewalks.

Nothing like rules and regulations – and a real threat of serious fines – to finally have folks realize that those cutbacks are meant for everyone, including them.

We’ll see what happens on Tuesday.

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