Sunday, April 5, 2015

Here's How California Will Enforce Its First-Ever Statewide Water Restrictions

The new restrictions require California’s cities and towns to reduce their water use by 25%, and residents could be fined $500 per day for violations.

Sprinklers water a lawn in Sacramento, California.

Rich Pedroncelli / AP

But while the restrictions themselves have been praised, how they work and their real impact on the drought remains to be seen.

The restrictions put significant emphasis on enforcement in cities, which account for about 20% of California's water use.


The restrictions require California's cities and towns to reduce their water use by 25%.

Actually making that happen will be the responsibility of the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) — one of California's numerous agencies that manage water. The board, however, won't actually stop individual water wasters. Instead, local water districts will be accountable to the SWRCB for enforcing the new restrictions, spokesman George Kostyrko told BuzzFeed News.

If local districts don't enforce the new water restrictions, the state can issue a cease and desist order and fine them $10,000 per day.

"It would have to be a situation where we just had a water district that was just not responsive," he said.

Local agencies can fine residents $500 per day, though Kostyrko said fines for individual water users haven't widely been used in the past.

Kostyrko said the main thrust of the new regulations is to curb the use of outdoor water — so, lawns and landscaping — and that the state hopes to avoid fines by working with local authorities.

Michael Korte walks on his home brown lawn in Glendora, California on July 17, 2014.

Damian Dovarganes / AP


There are hundreds of local water districts in California, meaning enforcement is going to happen in a sort of patchwork. And within that patchwork, some agencies have a better track record with enforcement than others.

Ramping up enforcement also isn't free. Richard Stapler, a spokesperson for the California Natural Resources Agency, told BuzzFeed News that local districts may be able to meet the demands of increased enforcement by training existing staff. But if that isn't enough, they may have to charge more for water — meaning it could get more expensive to turn on the tap in a California home.

The other obvious challenge is that water used in cities only accounts for a minority of California's demand. So, even with major cuts in urban areas, the state's water supplies will still be strained.

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