As California enters year four of what scientists are calling the worst
statewide drought in over 1,000 years, water regulators call for harsh,
unprecedented cutbacks that have homeowners and businesses bristling.
As water levels continue to dwindle in lakes and reservoirs across the
state of California, officials have been issuing tighter and tighter
restrictions on how much water citizens can use. According to Governor Jerry Brown, voluntary water
conservation just wasn’t working. He has said that “California citizens don’t
understand just how dire the situation has become.”
The state’s snowpack, an area in Northern California that typically
provides about one third of the state’s fresh water, is all but gone. And
despite the official declaration of a “drought emergency” in 2013, the state
has only managed to reduce water usage by 9% since last summer.
Last Tuesday came the approval of a new set of water conservation rules
by the State Water Resources Control Board. The panel voted 5-0 to approve
cutbacks that encourage CA residents to let their lawns die rather than use
water that must be saved. Rules also apply to public property, where watering
is severely limited.
According to the targets approved last Tuesday, CA
cities must reduce water usage by nearly 35% compared to 2013. Several water
departments argue that such a dramatic change will not only drive water bills
through the roof, but will also cause a decline in property value. Estimates
show that water departments could lose as much as $1 billion if they follow the new cutbacks.
The drought is particularly hard on California’s farmers, who are no
longer allowed to divert nearby rivers to water their crops. Water
deliveries from reservoir systems to farms have also been cut.Meanwhile, San Diego is especially annoyed with the cutbacks considering the city has spent over $3 billion in preparation for extended dry spells.
Officials expect a dramatic reduction in water usage by the month of
June and plan to penalize any person or business failing to meet the new targets, but the jury is still out on what the penalty will be.
Governor Brown has made it clear that he is willing to support legislation that
will boost fines to $10,000.
The main issue here is that the Water Board doesn’t have the staff to police water usage and water agencies lack the staff to issue tickets. Other agencies have flatly refused to obey the new cutbacks. A ten-hour hearing was held a few days ago in which the public cried out for more realistic targets, but the Water Board refused to budge.