State water board proposes outdoor watering restrictions

A house is reflected in a puddle of water from an over-irrigated yard in San Diego.
(Gregory Bull / Associated Press)

Urban water agencies across California would have to impose mandatory restrictions on outdoor watering under a proposed state rule.

Though a number of cities, including Los Angeles, already have such regulations in place, most don’t. So the State Water Resources Control Board is giving them a push.

“Many urban Californians don’t realize how bad a drought the state is in,” said board chair Felicia Marcus. “It is a mistake to think that they are not at risk.”

The emergency drought regulations, which the board will consider at a public hearing Tuesday, require agencies to ban wasteful outdoor watering, hosing down sidewalks and driveways, and washing a car without a shut-off nozzle. The rules would give local agencies the authority to impose fines of up to $500 a day on scofflaws, although enforcement would probably start with warnings and escalating fines.

“What we’re saying is every community should be doing something about outdoor irrigation,” Marcus said, adding that it could represent as much as 80% of household use. “What these regulations propose is not that everyone kill off their lawns, but that at a minimum, people don’t over-water.”


A recent board survey found that statewide water use had declined just 5% since the beginning of the year, when Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency and asked residents to voluntarily cut use by 20%. And a Times review of data from Southern California’s three largest cities showed that over the course of the last year, water use had actually gone up.

The state’s biggest metropolitan areas have enough water in reserve to escape severe rationing this year, insulating most Californians from what Marcus called “one of the worst statewide droughts in modern times.”

But those reserves are going down, and officials warn that it may not rain next year, or the year after that. “We’re not trying to spank people,” Marcus said. “We’re trying to ring a bell and get people’s attention.”

The proposal bars lawn watering that sends riverlets onto the sidewalk and into the gutter, the use of drinking water in fountains that don’t recirculate, and asks agencies to limit the number of days in a week their customers can irrigate their yards.

Urban agencies would also have to provide the board with monthly reports on per capita water use in their service areas, as well as how much water they supply to customers.

If adopted next week, the rules would go into effect on Aug. 1. The limits could be enforced by local water districts and law enforcement. If Californians don’t respond, the board could enact tougher restrictions.

The urban proposal follows board action last week that beefed up its enforcement of water rights. The state has ordered thousands of farmers and communities that hold junior rights in rural areas to stop diverting from rivers and streams, so that those with senior rights get water.

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