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Big fines could leave water-wasting Californians high and dry

CA drought rules - watering lawn

With new water restrictions in place, Californians can be fined up to $500 a day for offenses such as overwatering the lawn.

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California’s in hot water – and you might be, too. (Metaphorically speaking, of course. The middle of a drought is no time for a bath.)

Violators of the state’s new mandatory water restrictions, which started this week, face fines of up to $500. Why the steep penalty? Because, in case you’ve been living under a well-hydrated rock, California is in a state of emergency due to its driest three-year stretch since 1895 – and boy, this drought’s got reach.

But let’s talk about you.

How will these new rules affect you, the average California dreamer? If you have access to a garden hose, you may want to pay extra attention because these new regulations aim to curb how much water people are using outdoors.

Individual violators can be fined up to $500 a day for:

1. Hosing down outdoor surfaces.

2. Overwatering lawns – if there’s runoff water, you’re overwatering.

3. Washing cars with a running hose.

4. Running what state bureaucrats call a “water feature.” You’d probably call it a fountain.

So who’s going to bust you? The State Water Resources Control Board leaves that part vague.

For some districts, it could mean local police identifying offenders. For others, it could be officials from the local water agency.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, water agencies are enlisting more conservation employees, or “water cops,” to respond to complaints or provide free consultations on how to cut your consumption.

Just last week, Santa Clara County’s water board voted unanimously to spend $500,000 to hire 10 workers to help in water-saving efforts. These new hires “will not issue tickets or collect fines for the time being,” according to the San Jose Mercury News. The county’s goal is to educate. But some districts will be more aggressive.

Besides, it’s those complaints you’ve got to watch out for.

Some water agencies are making it easy for neighbors to report water wasters online: the Sacramento County Water Agency, Marin Municipal Water District and Sonoma County Water Agency and the Alameda County Water District, to name a few.

There’s even an app for that.

Check out the Association of California Water Agencies’ site to see what other mandatory restrictions, if any, are in effect in your district.

This latest liquid crackdown is in place for about nine months, or 270 days (unless extended). The State Water Resources Control Board approved these emergency prohibitions after it decided that “much more can and should be done statewide to extend diminishing water supplies.”

It’s got a point.

At the beginning of the year, Gov. Jerry Brown urged Californians to cut their water use by 20 percent. Not only did residents not comply, but water consumption increased by 1 percent.

And if the state were meeting its conservation goals, it couldn't tell you.

Questions or comments? Reach out to Chan at jchan@cironline.org or on Twitter: @juliachanb.