Water regulators in California this week issued stringent new conservation measures to limit outdoor water use, including authorizing local agencies to levy fines of up to $500 for using a hose without a shutoff valve. That means no more washing a car, hosing down the driveway, rinsing windows or practically any familiar activity using an old-fashioned water hose. Non-circulating water fountains are now prohibited until further notice.
The new directives will take effect on Aug. 1 as the state languishes through its third year of a catastrophic drought that has diminished the Sierra Nevada snow pack, which normally feeds the state’s rivers and steams with fresh water. Los Angeles, Long Beach and Santa Barbara are among the many cities and counties statewide that have a imposed voluntary curbs, but the new rules will allow municipalities to set mandatory cutbacks and fine persons who do not comply.
The new regulations don’t order cities to cut water use by a certain amount, but direct agencies to—at a minimum—ban wasteful practices. Los Angeles, since 2009, has limited outdoor watering to three days a week. Officials quickly learned that when people abided by this rule and turned their water on at the same time, the near-100-year-old water mains throughout the city began to break every week because of intense pressure.
“We’re facing the worst drought impact that we or our grandparents have ever seen,” said Felicia Marcus, chairperson of the state water board. “And, more important, we have no idea when it will end. The least that urban Californians can do is to not waste water on outdoor uses.”
Gov. Jerry Brown in January declared a drought emergency and committed millions of dollars to help stricken communities deal with the water shortage; the measures also helped ease controversial protections for endangered fish to allow pumping from the now fragile San Joaquin-Sacramento River delta.
The drought is expected to cost California an estimated $2.2 billion this year, according to a study released on Tuesday by scientists at U.C. Davis. “The 2014 drought is responsible for the greatest absolute reduction in water availability for California agriculture ever seen,” the study stated. Scientists also said the results “underscore California’s heavy reliance on groundwater to cope with droughts.”
By mid-year 2014, loss of crop revenue over the past three years is estimated at $810 million, mostly because water shortages have forced many farmers in the Central Valley to let their fields lie fallow. Spanning from the Oregon and Mexican borders, in addition to lost revenue, the drought is expected to cost the state more than 17,000 jobs, the majority of losses involving farm workers and other employees/vendors in the agriculture industry. About 60 percent of fallowed land—and 70 percent of crop loss— is in the San Joaquin Valley where farmers not long ago regularly irrigated grazing land or grew annual crops like corn, beans and nuts.
Californians have, so far, fallen far short of meeting Brown’s call for a 20-percent cut in water use. Updated results of a state board survey show that urban water use in May increased one percent statewide compared with the May average for the previous three years. The rise was driven mostly by an eight-percent jump in coastal Southern California; most other hydrologic regions in the state saw a decline with the biggest drop occurring in the Sacramento River area where it fell 13 percent.
The young people are chiming in trying to encourage conservation. Lady Gaga, the eccentric Pop music diva, has joined the effort to get Californians to conserve water. She asked to film a video recently at Hearst Castle in San Simeon; officials there traditionally do not allow filming on the premises of the state park, but this time gave approval provided she appeared in a public service announcement advocating for water conservation.