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California Regulators Approve Fines for Wasting Water

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Over-watering lawns could now come with a cost.

Watering your lawn or washing your car may become a lot more expensive. State regulators have approved new fines aimed at water wasters, hoping the penalties will lead to a reduction in water use amid one of the severest droughts in California history.

New data shows that even though Gov. Jerry Brown has asked Californians to cut back on water use by 20 percent earlier this year, overall water consumption actually edged up in May 2014 compared to the previous three Mays.

The State Water Resources Control Board is now authorizing fines of up to $500 for excessive water use, like washing down sidewalks or too much lawn watering. It’s the first time these types of restrictions have been imposed on a statewide level. But a lot of questions remain about how they’ll play out.

“We’re not creating a giant regulatory scheme where we do a lot of ‘mother may I?’ said board chair Felicia Marcus. “We’re trying to set the bar, raise the floor, to make clear to people that we are in a very serious drought and everybody should be helping out.”

Marcus said the state isn’t telling local governments how to police the new regulations, or how much to fine violators.

Most of the people who spoke at the board’s Sacramento session backed the fines. Dan Cosgrove of Contra Costa County had concerns, though. He runs a pressure washing company.

“Our slogan is, ‘our dirt is your gold,’” he said. “We literally clean sidewalks, we clean walls. We clean roofs. We clean hard surfaces. And they’re saying, no, you can’t clean hard surfaces.”

The board apparently took Cosgrove’s concerns into consideration. Amended language clarified that fines are focused on sidewalk and driveway cleaning, not industrial washing operations.

The restrictions do make it clear that cleaning tied to public health or safety is still OK.

The regulations will go into effect early next month.

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About the Author ()

Sacramento bureau chief Scott Detrow covers state government, politics and policy for KQED News and its statewide news program, The California Report. Before joining KQED, Scott reported on Pennsylvania's natural gas drilling boom for NPR's StateImpact project.
  • Tony Trudeau

    Good. Sick of seeing neighbors water their lawn for hours during a drought so they can feel special.

    • W T

      Driven through Beverly Hills lately? The only color you see is GREEN. Dark green, light green, no brown what-so-ever except maybe the bark on trees.

  • W T

    Yeah, usage has gone up because we’re tired of having to inconvenience ourselves when we know that California has agreements in place with other states (like Arizona) that ships water to us. I took military style showers for over a year. I’m done going out of my way to conserve. I already only wash my vehicle minimally and have a shut off nozzle. I don’t take nearly as many baths as I once did, and we already have flow restrictive shower heads, a high efficiency washing machine, and we only run the dishwasher when it is completely full.

    I am sick of paying for other peoples bullshit. Maybe water companies should look at how many people reside in a home, and enforce a higher tier’d pricing system for those that are well above baseline.

    I drove through Beverly Hills about a month ago and noticed it is so green that I thought I was back in Florida. Too many people here have money, and simply don’t care.

  • Vodeeodoe

    What about golf courses? What about people who have swimming pools and hot tubs? Shouldn’t they pay way more? I have friends who live in various areas of Los Angeles, and everything is green there. Some entire neighborhoods have sidewalk/curbside grass that is automatically sprinkler-watered once a week and covers the sidewalk, the street and your parked car with water. We live in an area where public parks are allowed to go brown and fountains are turned off. I don’t understand how the drought rules work, except for that if you live in an area where rich people live, your neighborhood will not know that California is in the middle of a drought.

    • Andrew Pierce

      Water prices are tiered. You get a baseline amount at a certain rate and then, above that, you pay more per unit. With a pool, it gets expensive fast. But, less water goes into a pool than into a lawn on a weekly basis.

      • Vodeeodoe

        Where I live, in Northern California, we don’t have home pools, except for rich folks. Also, here we are expected to let our lawns go brown, so pool and hot tub people really bug me.

  • Lyric

    When they stop fracking and other industrial water wasters I’ll be more inclined to hate on my neighbors for washing their car.