California Tightens Water Use Restrictions as Drought Worsens

Water pours out of a hose after a worker washes the sidewalk in front of a business in downtown Los Angeles, California, U.S. on Friday, July 18, 2014.

Photographer: Kevork Djansezian/Bloomberg

California regulators approved additional statewide restrictions on water use as the record drought gripping the most populous U.S. state enters a fourth year.

The new rules by the California State Water Resources Control Board prohibit residents from watering lawns within 48 hours after a rain storm and limit watering to just two days a week. Restaurants and bars can only serve water if asked by a customer. Hotel and motel operators must offer patrons the option of not having towels and linens washed daily. Residents and businesses face fines for failing to follow the rules.

Record-low rain and snowfall has left California’s reservoirs less than half full, leading to water rations that have laid fallow a million of acres in the nation’s most-productive agricultural region. Wildfires are on the rise, and fish populations are at risk. Some communities have restricted water use to a fraction of normal levels, while the cost of buying water and drilling new wells has skyrocketed.

“We’re rapidly approaching the point at which no options are good,” said Felicia Marcus, the board’s chairwoman.

The drought has worsened from last year, water officials said Tuesday, with record little precipitation and snow since January leaving reservoirs approaching historically low levels and the driest months of the year still ahead.

State officials are considering whether they will need to erect concrete barriers to prevent saltwater from the San Francisco Bay from flowing into the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, an ecologically sensitive confluence of two rivers that feeds water to 25 million people and 750,000 acres (304,000 hectares) of farmland.

Emergency Measure

The water board last July passed an emergency measure that set fines of as much as $500 a day on residential and business property owners if they over water lawns to the point that runoff flows onto streets or sidewalks. Residents washing cars without shutoff nozzles on hoses would also face penalties. The board today reauthorized those rules.

California Governor Jerry Brown last year declared a drought emergency, calling on residents to curb water use by 20 percent and warning of possible mandatory restrictions. The drought led lawmakers last year to approve new ground water regulations for the first time in the state’s history.

The state regulations prohibit the use of fountains and other ornamental water features unless they are equipped with recirculation pumps. Residents also are barred from washing driveways and sidewalks.

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