California droughts: State approves $500 per day fines for those who waste water

Excessive garden sprinkling, hosing down driveways or using drinking water in ornamental fountains will be punished
  • @timwalker

Legislators in California have voted to impose fines of up to $500 per day on people who conspicuously waste water during the state’s worst drought in decades. The State Water Resources Control Board on Tuesday approved the emergency conservation measures, which are expected to come into effect in California’s cities from 1 August.

The new rules allow local agencies to fine people who are caught unnecessarily wasting water with excessive garden sprinkling, hosing down their driveways or using drinking water in ornamental fountains. Board officials said they hoped the measures would make Californians more aware of the dramatic dry spell. The entire state is said to be experiencing “severe drought”, with 80 per cent currently suffering “exceptional drought”.

Some California cities have already imposed mandatory water use restrictions, including Los Angeles, which has limited residents’ lawn watering to three days per week since 2009. Yet in most of the state, water conservation remains voluntary.

In January, Governor Jerry Brown urged Californians to cut their water use by 20 per cent, but a recent survey showed that the state’s urban water use in May was in fact one per cent more than the average for the month over the past three years. Though much of the state had cut down, the rise was accounted for in large part by an eight per cent increase in water use in coastal Southern California.

In a report released this week, scientists from the University of California, Davis said the drought could cause the state’s vast agricultural industry to lose $1bn in revenue and 17,000 seasonal and part-time jobs in 2013.

Speaking to the Associated Press before the vote on the emergency measures, Water Resources Control Board chairwoman Felicia Marcus said: “Not everybody in California understands how bad this drought is, and how bad it could be… There are communities in danger of running out of water all over the state.”