Editorial: Hefty overwatering fines would make clear California is in a drought

We’ve all seen an overwatered lawn: water flowing over the sidewalk and into the gutter. We shake our heads and ask: Don’t they know we’re in the middle of a severe drought?

Some cities have strict rules for people who waste water. Others have imposed mandatory cutbacks. But violators don’t face serious consequences. Now, state water officials are proposing to change that laissez-faire mindset.

It’s about time.

Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in January and asked Californians to curb their water use by 20 percent. Statewide, residential users responded by cutting only 5 percent. In some parts of the state, water consumption actually increased. In which water-world are they living?

In April, the governor signed an executive order authorizing the state to redouble its efforts to deal with the most severe drought California has experienced in more than 30 years.

On Tuesday, the State Water Resources Control Board will consider emergency regulations that could lead to fines up to $500 a day for people who obviously waste water. The emergency regulations would go into effect as early as Aug. 1.

Because many Californians haven’t cut consumption, fines are a next logical step to impress upon people how serious this drought is and to ring the alarm for residents that the state’s water shortage could get worse.

To ratchet up the pressure to conserve, the proposal seeks to authorize local water agencies to levy fines for:

• Watering outdoor landscapes so heavily that it causes runoff.

• Washing vehicles with a hose not fitted with a shut-off nozzle.

• Washing sidewalks and driveways.

• Using potable water in a fountain that does not have a recirculation system.

“We’re trying to deal with the fact that California is in this incredibly historic and severe drought and trying to figure out ways to increase our resilience and security,” Felicia Marcus, chairwoman of the water board, told The Bee’s Hudson Sangree.

Many Californians are limiting their use. But not enough; more of us should be thinking about ways to arduously conserve by, for example, replacing lawns with drought-resistant plants or installing water-saving showers and toilets.

This is the second time in two weeks that the State Water Resources Control Board has acted forcefully to deal with the drought. Last week the board streamlined a quasi-judicial process to force some rural water users to stop drawing water from rivers and streams, or face $500-per-day fines.

If the board approves the rules aimed at urban and suburban water users, authorities would instruct local water agencies to monitor water consumption and submit monthly reports stating how many gallons of water each person in their district uses per day, on average. If anticipated levels of conservation are not met, more mandatory measures could be imposed.

Good. Some Californians evidently don’t fully understand the severity of the drought. Perhaps fines of $500 a day would help make it clear.