Water & Drought

How you can help weather the drought

It’s dry. Tahoe ski resorts are closing early. Snowpack in the Sierra Nevada – which in typical years would supply about 60 percent of California’s fresh water as it melts – is at a historic low for this time of year.

As California enters a fourth year of drought, here’s a breakdown of what the state is asking of residents.

Q: What am I required to do?

A: State water regulators this week issued limited but mandatory conservation rules. The restrictions could be toughened if they don’t result in a significant drop in statewide water use.

Regulators told every urban water agency in California to limit how often customers can water their landscape, though it gave agencies flexibility in setting the number of watering days. Most Sacramento area agencies already have watering rules in place, though the restrictions vary. To see what rules apply in your neighborhood, go to http://bewatersmart.info/droughtmap/.

The state also prohibited landscape watering within 48 hours of measurable rainfall. If you own a restaurant, you can’t serve water unless a customer asks. If you run a hotel, you must give customers the option of not washing linens and towels daily.

If you water your lawn too often or on the wrong days, you could be fined by your local agency. Fines in the city of Sacramento range from $50 for a second offense to $1,000 for a fourth offense.

Q: What more could I do?

A: Probably the easiest, biggest step you can take at home is to water the landscape smartly and sparingly. Outdoor water use accounts for 50 percent to 70 percent of all urban water use in the state. Watering before 8 a.m. can save around 25 gallons of water a day during summer, when water evaporates quickly. Ripping up a lawn and switching to turf or drought-tolerant plants could reduce your water use by tens of thousands of gallons each year.

Indoor water conservation can help, too. Reducing the length of a shower by two minutes can save about 5 gallons of water. Turning water off while brushing your teeth can save up to 3 gallons. Fixing a dripping faucet can save up to 20 gallons of water a day.

Finally, installing water-saving dishwashers, washing machines and toilets can reduce the amount of water you use by a few dozen gallons every day.

Q: What about my garden?

A: Planting the right kind of food in the right-sized garden using efficient watering techniques can save a lot of water. Black-eyed peas need hot temperatures to produce good crops and get by on little water. Lima beans can survive with limited water, too. Snap beans and pole beans have short growing seasons and will set crops with little water. Some types of melons, okra, eggplant, cucumbers and peppers also do well in dry conditions.

Installing an efficient drip irrigation system will save water by slowly delivering it to plants. Compost will absorb irrigation, help keep the soil moist and provide nutrients for your plants.

Q: How can I make my voice heard?

A: The local agencies that set water policy hold regular public meetings. In the Sacramento region, go to bewatersmart.info/find-your-water-provider/ to find your local water district. Most publicize their meetings online.

Visit www.water.ca.gov/canav/comment.cfm to send a comment to the state Department of Water Resources.

State legislators are debating a broad array of policy issues related to drought. You can find out how to contact your legislator by visiting findyourrep.legislature.ca.gov.