After meeting with mayors from across the state, many of them from the Bay Area, Governor Jerry Brown proposed new legislation on April 28 that would fine up to $10,000 per day for violations of target water reduction goals for cities, water providers and water districts. The fines would be enforced by local water agencies and would go to local conservation efforts under the new legislation.
Following the announcement of the 25 percent statewide mandatory water reductions on April 1, Brown continues to find ways to increase enforcement to reduce water waste.
According to Graham Fogg, a hydrogeology professor at UC Davis, this drought is one of the most serious modern-day droughts since the late 1970s.
“I think, before this, our worst drought on record in California […] was the 1976-1977 drought. That was only a two-year drought. This one’s been quite dry and it’s already lasted twice the length of the ‘76-’77 drought,” Fogg said.
Fogg added that he feared this drought could potentially extend to a couple decades thus becoming a mega-drought.
“I’m talking hundreds of years ago, California is known to have experienced droughts of 20 to 70 years. We call these mega-droughts and some of them were in the middle-ages and so that has happened in the past and we hope that that’s not happening again. But in the case it is, the population needs to prepare for significant cutbacks of water usage,” Fogg said.
The new legislation would give power to wholesale and retail water agencies as well as city and county governments who would enforce local and state restrictions. The proposal would also give staff the ability to issue citations, warnings and penalties, ultimately speeding up the infraction process, which was determined in last year’s emergency drought legislation.
In a press release, Brown expressed that the measures would give new authority to local law enforcement agencies, which currently do not have power to enforce restrictions, and will at the same time increase penalties against those who waste water.
“These measures will strengthen the ability of local officials to build new water projects and ensure that water is not wasted,” Brown said.
In addition to this legislation, Governor Brown asked his staff and state agencies to search for ways to help local water agencies. These agencies are looking to increase water supply with limited impact on the environment and reduce the time required for environmental review of their water supply projects. In addition, Brown’s office will explore ways to speed up the delivery of major water supply projects.
In terms of how each water agency can reduce water usage, each agency will act on its own initiative; however, each group will be assigned a target reduction that will be based on current, individual per capita water use.
This is where the fines come in; if cities, water providers or water districts fail to reach target reductions, they may face fines that can go up to $10,000 per day.
Fogg expressed that he understood that Brown was taking drastic measures because of the severe condition of the drought.
“I suppose the feeling is that there needs to be a consequence for not conserving. In terms of the, what I think of the magnitude of the fine, I don’t think I have an opinion on that…and the fine does seem to be commensurate with the seriousness of the water shortage,” Fogg said.
Richard Tsai, senior utility resource specialist for the City of Davis, expressed similar sentiments in an email response.
“The city is doing its best to reduce its own water use in parks, greenbelts and city facilities. Cooperation with businesses, apartment managers and residents are necessary to meet the city’s goal of reducing water use,” Tsai said.
He added that the city did not have an opinion on Brown’s new proposal, but rather found the measures being taken necessary in response to California’s continued state of severe drought.
“During a conference call with the State Water Resources Control Board [on Tuesday], it was mentioned that water districts who are not performing good faith efforts towards reduction will be targeted first. The board’s goal isn’t to fine water districts or cities, but to help conserve water,” Tsai said.
Brown declared a drought state of emergency in January 2014. Since then, many measures have been passed such as the prevention of the watering of ornamental grass on public street meridians and car-washing only with an automatic shut-off nozzle.
Tsai stated that Davis was taking steps to save the city’s water in compliance with Brown’s emergency regulations and will take further measures once Brown’s proposal is adopted.
“Once the regulation is adopted, [the] city will need to achieve 28 percent reduction from June 2015 through February 2016… The 28 percent reduction needs to be achieved monthly and cumulatively. The measurement is based on total water production as pumped from all the wells,” Tsai said.
Fogg also stated his concerns regarding the need to preserve both surface water and groundwater in the statewide push to save water.
“The drought is pushing us to be better managers of our water, which includes not only the conservation measures, but also the tracking of the state of our water resources, the conditions of our water resources. In the past, we’ve done a very good job of doing that for our surface water…but in the past, we have not been very attentive to tracking our groundwater resources,” Fogg said.
In his press release, Brown emphasized his purpose behind the $10,000 fine proposal.
“As this drought stretches on, we’ll continue to do whatever is necessary to help communities save more water,” Brown said.
Graphic by Jennifer Wu.
In the May 14 article “Governor Jerry Brown proposes to fine cities, water providers, water districts up to $10,000 for wasting water” the $10,000 per day fine is levied against cities, water providers, and water districts, not against residents and businesses.