By Mark Leberfinger
California officials continue to urge residents to conserve water during the state’s historic drought.
Authorities now have some teeth to enforce water conservation where some residents and businesses may not be cooperating.
In July, the California Water Resources Control Board gave local agencies the ability to go to court seeking $500/day fines on those who fail to implement water conservation.
A Los Angeles Water Conservation Specialist documents a sprinkler violation of the Emergency Water Conservation Plan Ordinance. (Photo/Los Angeles Department of Water & Power)
Fines up to $10,000/day could be imposed on water agencies that do not comply with state water regulations.
Fifty-eight percent of California remains under exceptional drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Almost 82 percent of the state is under either extreme or exceptional drought conditions.
The fines are in effect until next year, according to the state board.
Rain prospects will be very hard to come by through at least March, AccuWeather.com Senior Meteorologist Jack Boston said.
“There are very dismal prospects,” Boston said.
The heart of the state’s rainy season is February and March. There had been some thought that El Niño would help raise precipitation chances but if it occurs, it may now be weak.
“That may mean near- to even below-normal precipitation,” Boston said.
One of the agencies that can seek fines is the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.
The department has a water conservation response unit, which is now comprised of four employees.
The unit uses education as a major tool to work with residents and businesses, the agency told the Los Angeles Times.
After warnings, repeat offenders will be fined, the department said.
About 40 percent of all Los Angeles drinking water is used for landscape irrigation, according to the department.
Sprinkler-use restrictions are in effect along with restrictions on watering of hard surfaces such as sidewalks and driveways and serving water to restaurant customers unless specifically requested.
The department also recently raised its incentive for residential customers to replace their lawn grass with “California Friendly” landscaping for $3 per square foot of turf removed.
The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission passed new emergency outdoor irrigation restrictions on Aug. 12 for all of its retail customers. The regulations feature a mandate to reduce water use by 10 percent for outdoor irrigation of ornamental landscape and turf.
The commission said it will focus on education and training, not policing and fining. Fines, if necessary, will start at $100 per violation and will require approval by the commission’s general manager before issuance.
California residents will be asked in November to approve a proposed $7.5 billion water bond after the state Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown approved the referendum on Aug. 13.
“The Water Quality, Supply and Infrastructure Improvement Act of 2014 is a bond that will meet the state’s needs, fit the state’s budget and pass muster with the state’s voters,” Assembly Speaker Toni G. Atkins, D-San Diego, said in a statement. “Among the things funded in this comprehensive bond are storage, conservation, recycling, groundwater management and habitat improvements – all aspects that will help ensure clean, safe and reliable drinking water, both in drought years and in normal years.”
In addition to very little precipitation for the Los Angeles Basin through the Central Basin to Northern California, it also means Santa Ana winds could make for a “very dangerous fire situation” in October and November, Boston said.