Water Hose

Photo courtesy of Unsplash

Despite recent heavy rains across the state, all of California remains in the grip of drought. In response the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) approved new water restrictions that come with penalties for violators.

Residents face fines of up to $500 for each day a violation of the newly approved regulations occurs, though enforcement is left up to local jurisdictions.

Included in the water board’s regulations – approved Tuesday, Jan. 4 – are prohibitions on the use of potable water:

to irrigate outdoor landscapes if it causes more than incidental runoff

to wash sidewalks, driveways, buildings, structures, patios and parking lots

for street cleaning or construction

to irrigate turf on public street medians or publicly owned or maintained landscaped areas between the street and sidewalk.

Turf and ornamental landscapes cannot be irrigated either during, or within 48 hours after, at least one-quarter inch of rain.

The use of a hose to wash vehicles is prohibited unless it is fitted with a nozzle or similar device that prevents water from flowing freely when not in use. There are some exceptions to the rules if public health and safety is at risk.

The new regulations also prohibit homeowners’ associations (HOA) from threatening or fining homeowners for violating HOA policies if those policies contradict SWRCB guidelines. Further, HOAs can’t force homeowners to remove any water-efficient landscaping measures taken by homeowners in response to the drought. This protection continues once the drought ends.

“Climate change is challenging us to build drought resilience in our water infrastructure and management practices, and at an individual level in our daily habits,” said E. Joaquin Esquivel, SWRCB chair. “Prohibiting wasteful water practices increases awareness of water as a precious resource no matter what type of weather we are experiencing in a given moment, because weather extremes are now part of our climate reality.”

For residents of Brentwood, the state’s actions won’t require any changes in water-use due to the city’s existing water regulations.

“The restrictions announced in the recent (SWRCB) press release are already prohibited in the city,” said Casey Wichert, assistant director of public works for the City of Brentwood. “This recent announcement won’t require any regulatory action by the city.”

The same is true for the Diablo Water District (DWD), which serves 42,000 residents of Oakley, Knightsen and Bethel Island.

“Diablo Water District already has permanent restrictions on most activities outlined in the SWRCB emergency regulations,” said DWD General Manager Dan Muelrath.

Muelrath added that the district will be identifying publicly owned landscaping that can no longer be irrigated with potable water under the state’s new regulations and helping contractors find non-potable water sources for construction and dust-control activities.

That approval of the new water restrictions comes just days after the Department of Water Resources (DWR) completed its first survey of Sierra snowpack of the season. Officials measured the snowpack at the Phillips Station at 78.5 inches, more than 200% of average at the location for this time of year.

“We could not have asked for a better December in terms of Sierra snow and rain,” said DWR Director Karla Nemeth. “But Californians need to be aware that even these big storms may not refill our major reservoirs during the next few months. We need more storms and average temperatures this winter and spring, and we can’t be sure it’s coming. So, it’s important that we continue to do our part to keep conserving – we will need that water this summer.”

Sierra snowpack accounts for about 30% of the state’s water supply. And while the news this season is good, DWR warned that a wet December can still be followed by dry weather in January and February, as happened in 2013. A good start that year ended with one of the driest years on record.

“California continues to experience evidence of climate change with bigger swings between wet and dry years and even extreme variability within a season. A wet start to the year doesn’t mean this year will end up above average once it’s all said and done,” said Sean de Guzman, manager of DWR’s Snow Surveys and Water Supply Forecasting Unit.

The impact of this season’s precipitation to date is reflected in the data presented by the U.S. Drought Monitor. It reports that as of Dec. 30, 100% of the state remained in some level of drought, but less than 1% was categorized as D4, which represents ‘exceptional’ drought conditions and is the most severe rating. Thirty days earlier, 23% of the state was categorized as D4 and 90 days ago more than 45% was experiencing exceptional drought. The portion of the state experiencing severe drought conditions, D2, jumped from 6% three months ago to 53% at the end of December.

For a full list of water restrictions, visit the State Water Resources Control Board at: https://bit.ly/press_waterregs. The U.S. Drought Monitor can be found at: https://droughtmonitor.unl.edu.