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Water board to use ‘light touch’ on urban water regs

California's State Water Resources Control Board is set to adopt fines for urban dwellers who waste water outdoors, but the regulations would only apply in communities that don't already have conservation plans in place and wouldn't be mandatory for private providers.
Tim Hearden

Capital Press

Published on July 9, 2014 3:18PM

Capital Press

SACRAMENTO — While farmers grapple with strict new shutoff orders, the State Water Resources Control Board is set to use what board Chairwoman Felicia Marcus calls “a light touch” to coax city-dwellers to conserve water.

The board next week will consider making it illegal for urban users to hose down their driveways, wash their cars without a shutoff nozzle or water their lawns so much that runoff flows onto sidewalks and the street.

But the prohibitions, which carry a $500-a-day fine for violators, wouldn’t apply to communities that have already set conservation measures — even routine ones undertaken each summer — and wouldn’t be mandatory for private providers such as the San Jose Water Company, state officials said.

“We don’t want to spank people,” Marcus told reporters in a conference call on July 9, adding that she hopes media attention to the regulations will persuade people to comply voluntarily. “It does require repeat messaging.

“We could in fact do more” under the state’s water code, she said. “We’re hoping folks will do more.”

Water managers say cities have failed to cut their measured water use by 20 percent as called for by Gov. Jerry Brown in two drought declarations this year. A state survey found overall water use statewide has declined by only 5 percent.

The board’s actions come as many farmers who rely on state or federal water deliveries are going without water this summer, and junior water rights holders throughout the Sacramento and San Joaquin river watersheds have been told to stop diverting from the rivers and their tributaries.

After only 31 percent of the 7,900 landowners served curtailment notices affirmed they had stopped diverting, the water board last week stepped up enforcement activities and raised fines for illegal diversions to as much as $1,000 a day and up to $2,500 per acre-foot of water illegally used.

In addition, violating a cease-and-desist order for water diversion could bring a $10,000-per-day fine, according to a state Senate analysis of the authorization bill passed this year.

The proposed urban regulations the board will consider July 15 are the result of workshops held after a state survey of urban water suppliers in late May and early June found that only 30 percent had mandatory water use cuts in place.

Marcus said the urban rules could be enforced by the water board, individual water districts or local law enforcement officers. Public water agencies without their own plan would have to restrict outdoor irrigation to two days a week or adopt other mandatory measures, and failure to do so could bring daily fines of as much as $10,000.

If adopted, the new rules would take effect Aug. 1, more than six months after Brown’s initial emergency declaration and five months after farmers were notified they’d face drastic water cutbacks.

Marcus said stricter rules for cities could follow, such as more stringent landscape regulations and a requirement that urban providers deal with leaks that can account for more than 10 percent of overall water consumption.

“What these regulations propose is not that everyone kill off their lawns but that at a minimum, people don’t over-water, that people don’t water sidewalks, that people don’t let hoses run when they wash their car,” she said. “We’re not proposing what all Californians should do, we’re proposing the least of what Californians should do.”


View the state water board’s proposed regulations at http://www.swrcb.ca.gov


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