As California continues to endure drought conditions, despite recent torrential rain and snow, Californians are facing mandatory water saving restrictions for their outdoor water use as voluntary conservation efforts have not had the desired effect, reports Phys.org.
Residents are not to water their lawns for 48 hours after a rainstorm or let sprinklers run onto the sidewalk, according to the restrictions adopted by state regulators on Tuesday. If these rules are not met, citizens could face a fine of up to $500 per day, although officials say they expect such fines will be rare, as they were in the last drought.
Governor Gavin had asked for Californians to reduce their water use by 15% compared to last year; however, this target was not achieved and between July and November, the state’s water usage went down just 6%.
Although the new rules have been adopted after an extremely wet December, state climatologist Michael Anderson said forecasts show January, February and March could be drier than average. In California, the winter months are usually the state’s wettest season.
According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, in mid-December, about 80% of the state was in extreme or exceptional drought conditions. By the end of the month, only about a third was experiencing those conditions. That said, some parts of the state's water system are still under stress from the extremely dry conditions earlier in the year, which led some of the largest reservoirs in California to reach record lows.
"Conserving water and reducing water waste are critical and necessary habits for everyone to adopt as we adjust to these uncertainties and we build resilience to climate change, so adopting emergency regulations now just makes sense," said Eric Oppenheimer, chief deputy director for the state water board. "We need to be prepared for continued drought."
For the moment, no other western state has adopted mandatory water-saving rules on residential water usage although other parts of the US West are also struggling under drought conditions. Instead, it's local governments and water agencies in places like Denver and Las Vegas setting policies about when people can water their lawns. For example, the Las Vegas region adopted restrictions on planting grass, including banning it in front yards, in an effort to save water.
Comparable restrictions were adopted in California during the five-year drought that ended in 2017 and some cities then made the rules permanent. Officials also incentivized Californians to transform their water-hungry lawns into drought-resistant landscaping.
Phys.org reports that now California's overall water use is lower than it was when the last drought began, which makes conservation trickier this time because some of the easiest measures have already been adopted. State water board officials were unable to say how many of California's nearly 40 million people are under such rules or exactly how much water they expect to save.