Tuesday, May 12, 2015

California drought: How the state's new water conservation rules affect you


The administration of Gov. Jerry Brown last week enacted historic new water conservation rules in response to California's drought. The goal is to cut statewide water use by urban residents 25 percent over the next nine months to help preserve water supplies in case the drought continues through next winter.
Q Am I affected?
A Yes. The rules apply to all 38 million California residents.
Q I've been hearing lots of confusing details. What do I need to know?
A There are basically three types of rules. Think of them as three buckets: First are statewide rules that ban water wasting. They apply to everyone. Second are mandatory conservation targets for cities and water districts. And, finally, there are local rules, which vary from place to place.
Q OK, let's start with the water-wasting rules. What can't I do?
A Get out those brooms. Nobody in California can use potable water to wash off sidewalks or driveways. Also prohibited is watering landscaping so much that the water runs off into a street, driveway, sidewalk or a neighbor's property. People also can't wash cars with hoses that don't have shut-off nozzles. It's also illegal to water a lawn within 48 hours of "measurable" rainfall. That can mean as little as a hundredth of an inch. Restaurants are banned from serving water unless customers request it. And hotels must post signs in each room offering guests the option to not have towels and linens washed daily. It's also now illegal to irrigate grass on street medians with potable water.
Q Are there exceptions?
A A few. The rules allow for washing pavement to address immediate "health and safety" needs, such as the way that some cities power wash sidewalks to remove human and animal waste.
Q Are there penalties?
A Yes. Violators can be fined up to $500 per offense, although enforcement is up to each city.
Q How can I report violators?
A Generally speaking, call your city water department or go to its Web page. In Santa Clara County, anyone seeing violations can call a hotline run by the Santa Clara Valley Water District. The number is 408-630-2000. Residents can email reports of water waste to drought@valleywater.org. In Alameda and Contra Costa counties, customers of East Bay Municipal Utility District can call 866-403-2683 or go to www.ebmud.com/reportwaterwaste. For customers of the Contra Costa Water District, reports can be made at 925-688-8044 or by clicking on the "report water waste" button at the district's website, at http://ccwater.com. Finally, residents in Fremont, Newark and Union City served by Alameda County Water District can call 510-668-4200. Residents of San Mateo, San Benito and Santa Cruz counties should call their local water district or city water department."
Q Got it. What about the second bucket -- those mandatory cuts in water use?
A Last Tuesday, the State Water Resources Control Board passed rules that divide the 410 largest cities, water districts and water companies in California into nine tiers, based on their residential per capita water use from last fall. They will have to meet the targets, which are compared with their 2013 baseline use, or face state fines of up to $10,000 a day. Communities with low per-capita use -- such as Santa Cruz, Hayward and San Francisco -- will have to reduce water use by only 8 percent because they already have been conserving. Places with high per-capita use, such as Hillsborough, Beverly Hills and Bakersfield, will have to cut 36 percent. San Jose must cut 20 percent, EBMUD 16 percent and Contra Costa Water District 28 percent. To see the full list of which cities and water districts must cut by how much, go to www.waterboards.ca.gov and click on "Emergency Regulations Development to Achieve 25% Conservation." Then click "Proposed Urban Water Supplier Usage Tiers."
Q How will communities meet those targets?
A It will be up to each one to decide. Many will increase public outreach and offer increased rebates for people who buy water-efficient appliances. Most will limit lawn watering, usually to two days a week. Others will hire "water cops" to write tickets, while others will impose penalties and raise rates on people using more water than a set allowance. Some places have gone further. San Jose last month banned all washing of cars at people's homes -- regardless of whether hoses have nozzles -- and all filling of new swimming pools and hot tubs, for example.
Q What about the local rules? Where can I find out about the ones that affect me?
A Check with your water department, or if you receive a bill from a private water provider, check with the company. Most providers will be mailing out notices and updating their websites with local rules. Many already have begun that process.
Q But don't farmers use most of California's water? Why do cities need to save so much?
A Farmers do use 80 percent of the water consumed by people in California. But much of their water cannot be transferred easily to cities, either because they have legal rights to it or because of infrastructure issues. Water that an almond grower in Modesto doesn't pump from a well on his farm, for example, can't be shipped to the Bay Area or Southern California. And many of the state's farmers already have been hit with huge water cuts, losing 80 to 100 percent of their supplies from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta because of state and federal drought cutbacks. Most important, much of the water that urban residents save is from local reservoirs and aquifers. That's water they can use next year or beyond.
Q How hard is this going to be?
A It's not difficult for most people to save a significant amount of water. Lawns use 50 percent of all residential water in the summer. Cut your lawn watering in half, and you've saved 25 percent. The cuts will no doubt be harder for apartment dwellers. But they should check for indoor leaks and get flow restrictors for their showers and sinks. Many cities and water districts hand them out for free. Apartment residents might also want to encourage their landlords to replace old appliances and toilets. The landlords will often be eligible for sizable rebates.
Q Where can I get more information?
A To learn more about the rules, go to www.ca.gov/drought, or for water-saving tips, go to www.saveourwater.com.
By Paul Rogers (http://www.mercurynews.com/drought)

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