Grass in office parks, on college campuses or in some California neighborhoods will go brown this summer after state water officials adopted a ban Tuesday on watering certain green spaces as the state's drought drags on.
The ban adopted by the State Water Resources Control Board follows Gov. Gavin Newsom's plea for Californians to use less water or face broad, mandatory restrictions on water use. The board also voted to require local water districts to adopt stricter conservation measures, though they are locally designed to meet different community needs. Many of those rules place further limits on how often people can water their yards.
“The governor made very clear yesterday that there is a sense of urgency here," said E. Joaquin Esquivel, chairman of the water board.
California is in its third year of an acute drought, part of a two-decade megadrought facing the U.S. West that scientists say is the worst in 1,200 years. Hotter temperatures are also exacerbating the state's water challenges as people have started to water their lawns earlier than normal. This January through March marked California's driest winter in at least a century.
Starting June 10, watering some grass outside businesses, industrial facilities and institutions like colleges, hospitals and government facilities, as well as spaces managed by homeowners’ associations, won't be allowed.
Grass that can’t be watered includes anything that’s used for decoration and not for regular activities or events. The ban doesn’t apply to parks, sports fields, people’s lawns, or to watering trees. It would apply to grass managed by homeowners' associations but not individual residents. Violators can be fined $500 per day.
Beyond those restrictions, about 400 local water districts that supply California cities and towns must step up conservation actions, the board voted. Each district follows conservation requirements based on local plans created after the last drought. Many further limit how often people can water their lawns and aim to boost public messaging about the value of conservation.
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Officials from numerous water agencies urged the board not to force them all into further restrictions and instead give them more discretion based on their local supply conditions. Stacy Taylor, water policy manager at Mesa Water District in Orange County, said many local districts have already achieved major water savings and boosted supplies through investments in water storage, recycling and other measures.
“We have no shortage because we have done what the state has asked," she said.
The board approved a carveout for a small number of water districts, including Santa Cruz, a coastal city of about 65,000 people where water use is already very low, at about 45 gallons per person per day, said Rosemary Menard, the district's water director. A 10-minute shower uses roughly 20 gallons.
Santa Cruz is not as hot or dry as many parts of inland California and the city doesn't get any water from state supplies. The next step in the district's local plan is water rationing, which Menard said isn't necessary.
Under the carveout, districts that don't rely on state or federal supplies or the Colorado River, have a low average per capita water use and don't rely heavily on depleted groundwater supplies will face a different set of rules. Only about 10 districts are expected to be able to meet that criteria, said Max Gomberg, water conservation and climate change manager.
Rather than going to the next step of their local plans, they'll be required to limit outdoor watering with potable water to two days per week and only during certain hours. They must initiate public outreach campaigns about conservation.