State Board Mandates Outdoor Watering Restrictions Statewide as Drought Worsens

With the Sierra snowpack dwindling and precipitation at record-breaking low levels, the State Water Resources Control Board today mandated that urban water agencies adopt restrictions on outdoor watering and cautioned that it may consider “more significant” actions in weeks to come.

The restrictions were adopted as the State Board extended existing emergency water conservation regulations and added a few more in an effort to push residents to conserve even more water as the state lurches toward its fourth year of drought. The State Board action was preceded by a sobering report on the drought, which stated that statewide, as of March 16, the snow water content was just 13% of average for that date – lower than the same period during the state’s record-breaking drought of 1977.

“We are experiencing the lowest snowpack and the driest January in recorded history, and communities around the state are already suffering severely from the prior three years of drought,” State Board Chair Felicia Marcus said in a press release announcing the action. “If the drought continues through next winter and we do not conserve more -- the consequences could be even more catastrophic than they already are. Today’s action is just a tune-up and a reminder to act, and we will consider more significant actions in the weeks to come.”

The new emergency regulations include additional reporting mandates for water agencies which require them to report to the State Board on water conservation enforcement efforts as well as the number of days they allow outdoor irrigation. The regulation also mandates large urban water suppliers to limit outdoor irrigation to two days a week if they haven’t already adopted irrigation limitations in their drought contingency plans.

Initially, the State Board proposed giving water agencies without irrigation limits in their drought contingency plans 30-days to adopt the limitations. After requests by ACWA and other groups, the State Board changed the regulation to allow 45-days to adopt or amend drought contingency plans.

Dave Bolland, special projects manager for ACWA, testified to the State Board that water agencies should be given "flexibility at the local level" to message "right irrigation practices" to customers, such as the best time of day to water, rather than imposing restrictions on days for watering. Bolland added that it is important that Californians "keep the momentum going" in terms of water conservation.

ACWA's formal comment letter to the State Board on the regulations is available here.

The new regulations also prohibit outdoor watering during – and up to 48-hours after – measureable rainfall.

The State Board extended the emergency regulations it adopted in July which limit some forms of outdoor watering and require urban water suppliers to file monthly water production data, among other things. The emergency package was set to expire in April and the State Board extended the regulations for another 270 days.

Some of the proposed new regulations also would:

· Require urban water suppliers to promptly notify their customers when they are aware of leaks within the customer’s control.

· Implement hospitality sector restrictions requiring that water only be served on request in restaurants and bars and requiring the operators of hotels and motels to offer patrons the option of not having their towels and linens washed each day of their stay.