Drought forces limits on urban water use

California’s State Water Resources Control Board voted unanimously Tuesday to impose new mandatory restrictions on urban water use as the state enters its fourth year of drought.

The state’s drought could become even more dire as the year goes on. Little relief is expected entering the typically dry spring and summer months, and Sierra snowpack is only at around 20 percent of average.

While most urban water agencies have placed their own restrictions, water board members said today that those steps have not gone far enough and there is little consistency between agencies.

State water board Chairwoman Felicia Marcus said at Tuesday’s meeting:

“Urban agencies have not stepped up as much as they should be stepping up.”

The restrictions passed today include prohibition on landscape irrigation during the 48 hours following measurable precipitation and calls on water agencies to set a limit on the number of days per week landscapes can be watered. If any jurisdictions fail to set a weekly limit on watering landscapes, the limit will be automatically set at two days per week when the new regulations take effect.

The restrictions on landscape watering came under fire particularly from people running golf courses. Many golf course representatives said they thought they could bring water usage down without limiting how many days they irrigate.

Ron Zraick, the general manager at San Jose’s Cinnabar Hills Golf Club and president of the California Golf Course Owners Association, said at today’s meeting:

“It’s achievable, it’s doable, it’s what the industry wants to do, we do need a little flexibility.”

Zraick said his golf course has achieved water reductions of nearly 25 percent and has a great relationship with the local water district.

The new regulations do allow for allocation-based rate structures, board adviser Max Gomberg said. In addition to placing new restrictions on landscape irrigation, the regulations passed today require restaurants to only provide drinking water on request and hotels to give guests an option to not have their towels and linens laundered daily.

The new restrictions extend and broaden restrictions set last year with the goal of a 20 percent reduction in water usage from 2013 to 2014. The continuing restrictions include prohibiting washing down sidewalks and driveways with potable water, watering outdoor landscapes in a manner that causes excess runoff, washing cars without using an automatic shut-off nozzle, and operating a fountain without a recirculating water system.

While the state has saved 146 billion gallons of water since June, the state must continue saving water in any way possible, Gomberg said. The board pledged today to look into passing even stricter and permanent restrictions in the coming months.