Brown seeks penalties to soak water wasters

California Gov. Jerry Brown announced legislation Tuesday that would authorize penalties of up to $10,000 a day against those found to have wasted water and give local authorities new powers to enforce conservation requirements.

Brown announced the new legislation following a meeting with a number of California mayors, including many from the Bay Area, to discuss the state’s drought response.

The proposed legislation will include a new penalty of up to $10,000 per violation, which represents a sharp increase over the $500 per day maximum set in last year’s drought legislation.

In addition, the legislation will allow wholesale and retail water agencies as well as city and county governments to enforce local and state restrictions. It will also deputize staff to issue citations, warnings and penalties – speeding up the infraction process.

Any fines levied by local authorities would be used for local conservation efforts under the proposed legislation, according to the governor’s office.

The governor also said he has directed his staff and state agencies to look for ways to streamline the environmental review process for local water agencies pursuing projects that could increase water supplies with limited environmental impacts.

Brown said in a statement:

“These measures will strengthen the ability of local officials to build new water projects and ensure that water is not wasted. … As this drought stretches on, we’ll continue to do whatever is necessary to help communities save more water.”

The proposal to facilitate environmental approval for water supply projects has particular relevance for San Jose and Santa Clara officials, who are hoping to start work quickly on a $612 million wastewater recycling project that would expand an existing plant and upgrade several reservoirs.

Current state environmental approval rules could delay the start of construction on the North San Jose plant by nearly two years, officials said Monday.

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said after today’s meeting:

“The governor gets it.”

While the exact form the governor’s assistance might take has not yet been determined, “I feel confident that this governor understands the urgency and the need to enable cities like San Jose and Santa Clara, with our water district, to create a more sustainable water supply,” Liccardo said.

Today’s proposals follow Brown’s announcement earlier this month of mandatory 25 percent statewide reductions in urban water use, the first such order in state history. The determination of how to achieve that reduction was left up to individual water agencies, with each agency assigned a target reduction based on their current per-capita water use.

Agencies that fail to make the reductions could face fines of up to $10,000 per day, according to state officials.

After two dry winters California’s mountain snowpack, which supplies much of the state’s fresh drinking water, is at historic lows.

As of the beginning of April, statewide snowpack was at only five percent of the historic average. The previous historic lows were 25 percent in 2014 and 1977, state officials said.