Emergency rules would add teeth to California water-conservation rules

07/09/2014 9:24 PM

10/07/2014 8:16 PM

People who heavily water their lawns in the middle of a drought could end up paying a lot of green for that emerald grass.

California water authorities proposed emergency regulations this week that would prohibit wasteful lawn watering and car washing, with fines of up to $500 a day for residents who break the rules. The proposal also would grant police and other law enforcement officials broad discretion to write citations for water use they deem wasteful.

The dramatic move by the State Water Resources Control Board comes in response to the worst drought to grip California in a generation – one that threatens to get worse if it doesn’t rain this winter. Figures released last month showed that between January and May of this year, California as a whole cut its water use 5 percent compared to the same period over the preceding three years. That falls well short of the 20 percent reductions Gov. Jerry Brown urged when declaring a state of emergency in January.

“We’re trying to deal with the fact that California is in this incredibly historic and severe drought and trying to figure out ways to increase our resilience and security,” said water board Chairwoman Felicia Marcus. “We’ve been lucky in the last 100 years or so that it has started to rain after three years of drought, but there’s no guarantee that it will this time.”

The board, the agency charged with overseeing California’s complex system of water rights, will consider the proposed regulations at its hearing in Sacramento on Tuesday. The action is part of the board’s continuing efforts to cut water use statewide, and water agency officials from across the state are expected to offer input.

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