On Tuesday, the State Water Resources Control Board, in response to the ongoing severe drought took the unprecedented step of approving “an emergency regulation to ensure water agencies, their customers and state residents increase water conservation in urban settings or face possible fines or other enforcement.”
The agency put a fine of up to $500 per day for any water use “deemed excessive” – such as allowing landscape watering to spill into streets, and hosing off sidewalks and driveways.
According to their media statement, “The new conservation regulation is intended to reduce outdoor urban water use. The regulation, adopted by the State Water Board, mandates minimum actions to conserve water supplies both for this year and into 2015. Most Californians use more water outdoors than indoors. In some areas, 50 percent or more of daily water use is for lawns and outdoor landscaping.”
Many communities and water suppliers have taken bold steps over the years and in this year to reduce water use. However, many have not and much more can and should be done statewide to extend diminishing water supplies, the agency said on Tuesday.
With this regulation, all residents will be expected to stop: washing down driveways and sidewalks; watering of outdoor landscapes that cause excess runoff; using a hose to wash a motor vehicle, unless the hose is fitted with a shut-off nozzle; and using potable water in a fountain or decorative water feature, unless the water is recirculated.
The regulation makes an exception for health and safety circumstances.
The agency added, “Larger water suppliers will be required to activate their Water Shortage Contingency Plan to a level where outdoor irrigation restrictions are mandatory. In communities where no water shortage contingency plan exists, the regulation requires that water suppliers either limit outdoor irrigation to twice a week or implement other comparable conservation actions. Finally, large water suppliers must report water use on a monthly basis to track progress.”
Meanwhile, local agencies could ask courts to fine water users up to $500 a day for failure to implement conservation requirements in addition to their existing authorities and processes.
The State Water Board could initiate enforcement actions against water agencies that don’t comply with the new regulations. Failure to comply with a State Water Board enforcement order by water agencies is subject to up to a $10,000 a day penalty.
“We are facing the worst drought impact that we or our grandparents have ever seen,” said State Water Board Chair Felicia Marcus. “And, more important, we have no idea when it will end. This drought’s impacts are being felt by communities all over California. Fields are fallowed; communities are running out of water, fish and wildlife will be devastated. The least that urban Californians can do is to not waste water on outdoor uses. It is in their self-interest to conserve more, now, to avoid far more harsh restrictions, if the drought lasts into the future. These regulations are meant to spark awareness of the seriousness of the situation, and could be expanded if the drought wears on and people do not act.”
In addition to approving the emergency conservation regulation today, the State Water Board “made a plea for water suppliers, communities and businesses to do even more. For example, water agencies are being asked to step up their programs to fix leaks and other sources of water loss, use more recycled water or captured stormwater, and find additional ways to incentivize demand reduction among their customers.”
The new regulation was developed following two drought emergency declarations by Governor Brown. On January 17, Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. issued a drought emergency proclamation following three dry or critically dry years in California.
The April 25 Executive Order issued by the governor directs the State Water Board to adopt an emergency regulation as it deems necessary, pursuant to Water Code section 1058.5, to ensure that urban water suppliers implement conservation measures.
As drought conditions continue, the State Water Board may revisit this regulation and consider other measures to enhance conservation efforts throughout the state.
Following Board adoption, the regulation will likely go into effect on or about August 1, following submittal to the Office of Administrative Law. The emergency regulation remains in effect for 270 days, unless extended by the State Water Board due to ongoing drought conditions.
In the meantime, on Tuesday, UC Davis’ Center for Watershed Sciences, funded by the California Department of Food and Agriculture with assistance from the California Department of Water Resources, released a study of Economic Analysis of the 2014 Drought for California Agriculture.
The findings were stunning. Last year was the third driest year on record while, at the same time, agricultural, urban and environmental demands for water are at an all-time high.
“The study finds that the 2014 drought will result in a 6.6 million acre-foot reduction in surface water available to agriculture. This loss of surface water will be partially replaced by increasing groundwater pumping by 5 million acre-feet,” the researchers find. “The resulting net water shortage of 1.6 million acre-feet will cause losses of $810 million in crop revenue and $203 million in dairy and other livestock value, plus additional groundwater pumping costs of $454 million.”
The study found the direct costs to agriculture totaled $1.5 billion. The total statewide economic cost of the 2014 drought is $2.2 billion, with a total loss of 17,100 seasonal and part-time jobs. And if dry years persist – which is expected, the Central Valley can expect farming losses of about $1 billion per year.
They write, “Statistically, 2015 is likely to be another dry year in California – regardless of El Niño conditions. Continued drought in 2015 and 2016 would lead to additional overdraft of aquifers and lower groundwater levels, thereby escalating pumping costs, land subsidence and drying up of wells. Additional dry years in 2015 and 2016 would cost Central Valley crop farming an estimated total of $1 billion a year.”
They continue, “These results highlight California agriculture’s economic resilience and vulnerabilities to drought. They also underscore California’s heavy reliance on groundwater to cope with droughts. Without replenishing groundwater in wet years, water tables fall and both reduce regional pumping capacity and increase pumping energy costs – ultimately threatening the viability of higher value permanent crops in some areas.
“The 2014 drought has magnified our need to better understand two major mechanisms used to respond to drought in California: groundwater management and water markets. While our aggregate measures of groundwater depth over time and space are often good, our estimates of regional groundwater use are poor.”
The following conclusions arise from this analysis:
•The 2014 drought is responsible for the greatest absolute reduction in water availability for California agriculture ever seen, given the high agricultural demands and the low stream flows and reservoir levels. Surface water availability is expected to be reduced by about one-third.
•Groundwater availability and use is the key to agricultural prosperity in the 2014 drought and future droughts. This year, groundwater may replace as much as 75% or 5 million acre-feet of the roughly 6.6 million acre-foot loss of available surface water. This would raise groundwater’s share of agricultural water supply in California from 31% to 53%. Failure to replenish groundwater in wet years will continue to reduce groundwater availability to sustain agriculture –particularly more profitable permanent crops – during California’s frequent droughts.
•Statistically, the drought is likely to continue through 2015 – regardless of El Niño conditions. If the drought continues for two additional years, groundwater substitution will remain the primary response to surface water shortage, with decreases in groundwater pumping capabilities and increasing costs due to declining water levels. A continued drought also increases the vulnerability of agriculture, as urban users with largely adequate supplies in 2014 will likely buy water from agricultural areas.
•Net water shortages for agriculture in this year’s drought most severely affect the Central Valley with at least 410,000 acres lost to fallowing, $800 million in lost farm revenues and $447 million in additional pumping costs. These effects are most severe in the Tulare Basin. Dairy and livestock losses from reduced pasture availability and higher costs of hay and silage add $200 million in agricultural revenue losses.
•Coastal and Southern California farm regions are less affected by the 2014 drought, with approximately 19,000 acres fallowed, $10.1 million in lost revenue and $6.3 million in additional pumping costs.
•State and regional policymakers concerned with drought should pay special attention to (1) groundwater reliability, (2) the ability of state and county governments to provide technical and organizational assistance to rural communities and (3) facilitating voluntary water trades between willing parties, including the defining of a standard environmental impact report for water transfers that can be assessed and approved prior to droughts. These policies would give local governments the ability to reduce the impacts of droughts to rural and agricultural areas and economies susceptible to water scarcity.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting