California’s historic five-year drought ended last year, and rather than undertake infrastructure projects to collect and store water during the wet years, Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law a new water conservation act that will limit each citizen to just 50 gallons per person per day by 2050.
“In preparation for the next drought and our changing environment, we must use our precious resources wisely,” Brown said in a statement. “We have efficiency goals for energy and cars – and now we have them for water.”
According to Mercury News, Governor Brown “signed two bills, SB 606 by Sen. Robert Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys) and AB 1668 by Assemblywoman Laura Friedman (D-Glendale), that require cities, water districts, and large agricultural water districts to set strict annual water budgets, potentially facing fines of $1,000 per day if they don’t meet them, and $10,000 a day during drought emergencies.”
The bills stipulate that urban water providers must have a designated water use cap by 2022. Should they fail to meet the requirements, the fines will not set in until 2027. By 2030, California citizens will be allotted just 50 gallons per person for indoor use. Residential outdoor use, such as for gardens, has yet-to-be determined.
Agencies will also consider offering incentives for people to place more drought-tolerant plants in their gardens or install water efficient sprinklers. This also means agencies will limit the number of hours and days that people can water their lawns.
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Organizations who supported the new laws say it makes sense to reduce demand as the state’s population grows, and allow each local area the flexibility for devising their own plan while California continues to develop new supplies, from recycled water to storm water capture to new reservoirs.
Supporters included business groups such as the Bay Area Council and the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, along with water agencies like the Contra Costa Water District, East Bay Municipal Utility District, the Santa Clara Valley Water District, and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. Environmentalists supporting the laws included the Audubon Society, the Nature Conservancy and the Natural Resources Defense Council.
“They are definitely a step in the right direction,” said Tracy Quinn, water conservation director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The framework strikes the right balance between local control and necessary state oversight.”
According to Quinn, a majority of California cities and water districts already have a standard of 55 gallons per person for indoor use.
On average, urban Californians, especially those located in hot regions, used 90 gallons of water per person per day for indoor use. In 2013, that number stood at 109 gallons. Coastal cities with cooler climates saw a sharp decrease in water use, according to the state water board.
Some environmentalist groups say the laws do not go far enough. The Sierra Club takes issue with a certain compromise “inserted in the bill that allowed cities and water districts to get 15% credit on their water use totals if they produce certain types of recycled water.”
Water agencies also oppose the bill, arguing that the state should not be telling the local governments what they should do.
“Every local water agency supports conservation and has a responsibility to make sure its water users use water efficiently,” said Tim Quinn, executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies, which opposed the bill. “This was never about whether we should be pursuing conservation. It was about how.”