Video: Water-saving tips for your bathroom
No, Californians, it's not against the law to shower and do laundry on the same day — even though loud voices in the conservative blogosphere are claiming it is.
Taking aim at two water-conservation laws signed last week by Gov. Jerry Brown, a conspiratorial far-right financial blog called Zero Hedge reported Sunday that Californians could be fined $1,000 a day if they bathe and wash their clothes on the same day.
"If you don't plan to comply it's going to be way cheaper to move," the blog post stated.
The bogus information, which appears to have originated on a site called "The Organic Prepper," was widely disseminated on Twitter and Facebook, and cited by several conservative websites, including the Federalist Papers and Breitbart.
Joe Walsh, a conservative radio host and former congressman with 139,000 Twitter followers, shared a link to the blog post Monday and added: "California is awful. Just awful."
Republican U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Tulare, didn't link to the post, but he expressed his frustration on his blog that Californians would face "draconian" showering and laundry restrictions because of "environmental extremists and the Democrats."
"Californians don't want to have to choose between doing their laundry and taking a shower," he said.
Those claims, however, aren't true. The shower and laundry police won't be knocking on doors anytime soon.
The two bills, AB 1668 and SB 606, set general guidelines for water agencies to follow in California's post-drought era.
Water agencies will be encouraged to have their customers limit indoor water use to an average of 55 gallons a day per person, declining to 50 gallons by 2030.
But that's just a target a water district will be asked to meet across its ratepayer base, as part of a broader "water budget" strategy.
Assemblywoman Laura Friedman, D-Glendale, author of AB 1668, accused Zero Hedge, Nunes and others of spreading "pure fiction."
"I wish people would stop scaring people with this sort of thing," she said.
Under the bills Brown signed, individual water agencies will be required to factor in the 55-gallon target into their water-efficiency goals, but it's just one part of a utility's conservation calculations.
State regulators in consultation with local water agencies also will set limits on how much water can be used to water lawns and fill swimming pools. Outdoor use accounts for the lion's share of total residential consumption in much of California.
But those outdoor standards will vary greatly from one district to the next. The legislation allows for places like Sacramento with comparatively large yards and hot, dry summers to use more water outdoors than in foggy coastal regions where yards are small and cool weather lessens the need to water as much.
The new rules also encourage water providers to replace leaky infrastructure. Ancient pipes and crumbling water mains account for millions of gallons of wasted water statewide.
The idea behind the legislation is that all those factors — the indoor standards, the limits on outdoor water use, making water systems more efficient — will be built into a utility's "water budget."
"The only thing the water supplier is going to be measured on is, 'Are they within budget?' " said Max Gomberg, climate and conservation manager with the State Water Resources Control Board.
Zero Hedge claimed that Californians will get fined if if they shower and wash clothes on the same day because a single load of laundry will consume 40 gallons of water alone.
But that claim doesn't hold water either.
While 20 years ago, an inefficient top-loading washer might use 40 gallons, most high efficiency washers now use between 9 and 26 gallons per load, according to Consumer Reports.
Californians have been switching to these more efficient washers as their old machines wear out, along with their old shower heads, toilets and dishwashers, Gomberg said.
Plus, even if you have a 40-gallon washer, each person living in your household probably won't run separate loads of laundry every day. And, even if they do, their neighbor probably won't.
Remember, it's the average per capita water use across a district that counts.
All those factors combined is why Gomberg is optimistic that Californians can hit those targets.
Several cities, including San Francisco and Santa Cruz, already average less than 55 gallons per person per day for both indoor and outdoor use, he said.
Gomberg's home in the Bay Area uses 25 to 35 gallons of water per person daily, even with "a toilet that isn't ... even as efficient as some of the newer models, I'm embarrassed to say."
Gomberg said the 55-gallon figure isn't new. State lawmakers set it as the standard for indoor use almost 10 years ago, an amount that is greater than what's allowed in many European countries.
So what about those $1,000 fines?
Eventually, the new legislation says water providers not following the rules could face fines of up to $1,000 a day, and more if the governor declares a drought emergency.
But it's the water agencies — not individual ratepayers — that would get the fines. Sure, a district could pass those costs onto your water bill, but think dollars and cents instead of thousands out of your bank account.
So how difficult would it be to meet the 55-gallon standard?
Not very, according to estimates by the Alliance for Water Efficiency.
Imagine a family of four living in a home with old, inefficient toilets, old faucets, old shower heads, an old dishwasher and a 40-gallon washing machine. If they took four eight-minute showers, washed a load of clothes and did a load of dishes each day, they would use just under 60 gallons per person per day.
Replace the washing machine with a high efficiency front loader, and the family — without upgrading toilets, sinks, shower heads or the dish washer — would use about 54 gallons per person per day.