California Drought brings Water Cops

by Matt Petronzio, Mashable

As of Thursday, 100% of California is now in “severe drought” or worse, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. The state has had its driest start to the year ever recorded, and 2013 was its driest calendar year.

Scientists say southern California shouldn’t expect significant rain until October or November, and record heat and high winds contributed to damaging wildfires in San Diego County this week. Officials are expecting one of the worst wildfire seasons on record in California, with double the typical number of fires so far this year, and we’re just at the beginning of the dry season.

Because of these severe conditions, California’s water districts, counties and cities are urging residents to conserve water with a mixture of mandatory regulations and suggestions to fight the drought. These include water rationing, specific lawn-watering days and even enforcing “water cops” to report water waste.

California’s water comes from a complicated mix of federal, state and local sources. Separately from the local actions, the federal government is also restricting its water deliveries this summer, in some cases to record-low levels.

According to CBS News, mandatory restrictions aren’t as widespread as in previous droughts, mostly because more cities are conserving and making it expensive for residents “to guzzle water.” Still, it’s early in the season.


This is what the California drought currently looks like, with yellow showing severe drought, red extreme drought and dark red exceptional drought. IMAGE: U.S. DROUGHT PORTAL

We rounded up six examples of what local California governments and water districts are telling their residents to do during the drought.

1. Mandatory water rationing

While California Governor Jerry Brown has called on all Californians to reduce water usage by 20%, dozens of water districts and counties have also imposed mandatory cutbacks. Here are a few examples, according to the Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA):

  • Stinson Beach County Water District: Water use is restricted to 125 gallons per day per residence, and commercial users must reduce their water consumption by 20%. First notice is a warning, second notice is a $400 fine and third notice will result in water service being terminated.
  • Redwood Valley County Water District: Households will receive 50 gallons per person, while agricultural customers will get 0% of district water deliveries.
  • Russian River Flood Control and Water Conservation Improvement District: As of Feb. 24, 50% mandatory cutbacks are in effect in an effort to maintain as much water as possible in Lake Mendocino.
  • Tuolumne Utilities District: A 50% reduction is necessary by all customers. Any customer who does not reduce water use by 25% compared to the same month in 2013 could face fines. Lawn watering and washing of vehicles, sidewalks, or driveways by hose is prohibited — doing so could result in $500 fines.
  • Santa Clara Valley Water District: Due to a resolution passed on Feb. 25, there is a mandatory 20% reduction of water usage. Two million customers in Silicon Valley have officially been asked to take shorter showers and limit watering their lawns.
Drought status data is provided by Association of California Water Agencies

  Mandatory Restrictions

  Voluntary Measures

  Agricultural Reductions

  Other actions

 Drought Emergency / Water Shortage Declared

2. Enforcing ‘water cops’

Visalia, a city of 120,000 people, has hired a part-time worker for night patrols to report and respond to water waste.

Sacramento has imposed some of California’s most aggressive water patrols, delegating 40 employees who drive regularly for their jobs, such as building inspectors and meter readers, as “water cops” to report water waste. Six are on patrol full-time.

The city of Roseville is also creating a water patrol program, according to CBS News.

3. Water lawns and cars only on specific days

As part of its Stage 2 Water Shortage Contingency Plan, Sacramento has specific watering restrictions in place. Odd-numbered addresses can water before 10 a.m. or after 7 p.m. on Tuesdays and Saturdays, while even-numbered addresses can water on Wednesdays and Sundays during the same hours. Watering is prohibited on Mondays, Thursdays or Fridays. Fines can be up to $1,000 during the water shortage — twice as much as usual.

The city of Morro Bay has the same time limits, and also prohibits using potable water to clean or rinse docks, boats, driveways, etc. Any restaurants in the city will only provide water if requested, a measure several other cities have taken as well.

4. Use hoses only with positive ‘shut-off’ nozzles

Many districts, such as the Rio Linda/Elverta Water District and the city of Roseville, prohibit washing cars unless residents use a shut-off trigger nozzle or go to a commercial car wash.

In the city of Morro Bay, the use of hoses to wash cars is banned — residents can only use buckets, “subject to non-wasteful applications,” according to ACWA.

5. Fix leaks quickly

The city of Morgan Hill requires residents to fix any water leaks immediately. The South Coast Water District allows up to three days to fix leaks.

6. Remove turf, install rain barrels, etc.

This isn’t a mandatory regulation, but rather an extra incentive. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California is now paying double to residents who rip out their lawns and replace it with alternative landscape materials ($2 per square foot). It will also extend rebates for rain barrels and high-efficiency toilets, as well as increase funding for property owners to convert potable water irrigation or industrial water systems to recycled water starting July 1.

Metropolitan told the San Bernardino County Sun that participation in the turf removal program increased by more than 50% in the areas where member agencies offered higher incentives.

Sacramento also has a pilot program that will pay people up to $1,000 to replace their front lawns with drought-resistant or native plants.

BONUS: Tips and Suggestions

In addition to the above, there are several small-scale suggestions that can help Californians fight the drought. The Save Our Water program has lists of both indoor and outdoor tips for water conservation, such as taking five-minute showers, washing fruit and vegetables in a pan of water and watering grass early in the morning.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also has tips for saving water at home, as well as useful energy tips for the officeroad and school.

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