Article courtesy of Paul Rogers | March 18, 2015 | San Jose Mercury News | Shared as educational material
SACRAMENTO — Acknowledging that California’s water conservation efforts are falling short as the state descends into a fourth year of punishing drought, the administration of Gov. Jerry Brown on Tuesday imposed new mandatory water conservation rules that will affect millions of people — from how homeowners water their lawns to how restaurants and hotels serve their guests.
But enforcing the rules, which could carry fines of up to $500, will be left up to local cities, counties and water districts. And so far, very few have fined residents for wasting water.
The past three years have been the driest three years in California history dating back to the Gold Rush. On Tuesday, the Sierra snowpack was at 13 percent of its historic average, and many of the state’s largest reservoirs were far below normal. Meanwhile, 2014 was the hottest year in recorded history in California and around the globe.
In January 2014, the governor declared a statewide drought emergency and asked Californians to cut water use by 20 percent voluntarily. But the state’s urban and suburban residents have fallen short of that goal, cutting water use by only 9.7 percent from June to January, compared with the prior year.
- Ban all restaurants, bars and hotels from serving water unless customers ask for it.
Require all hotels and motels to provide signs in rooms telling guests that they have the option of choosing not to have towels and linens washed daily.
Ban Californians from watering lawns and landscaping with potable water within 48 hours after measurable rainfall.
Require cities, counties, water districts and private companies to limit lawn watering to two days a week if they aren’t already limiting lawn and landscape watering to a certain number of days a week. The rule applies to all 411 water providers with more than 3,000 customers in California, covering more than 95 percent of the state’s population. But there is a loophole: If water providers are already limiting days of the week, even if it is to three or more days, they can continue with those rules and not restrict watering to two days a week.
The statewide rules passed Tuesday also require water providers to promptly notify property owners when they discover leaks. And they mandate that water providers report every month to the state water board which days of the week they have limited watering and whether they are penalizing violators.
Many Bay Area restaurants already are limiting water to diners.
At Delicious Crepes Bistro in Santa Clara, which serves vegan fare and whose mission statement promises to be environmentally friendly, the staff says it’s already careful with wasting drinking water. When the drought became serious last year, the restaurant added a water-filled thermos on the counter and asked customers to serve themselves, with a sign on the wall saying “take only as much as you can drink.” The glasses next to it hold only 12 ounces, the bistro’s smallest glass.
“Originally, we poured water from a pitcher into bigger glasses,” said Hanna Mityashina, 28, the cafe’s manager. “We noticed when we reduced the size of the glasses, it reduces the consumption. We want to preserve water.”
Next door at Chef Ming’s, owner Diana Lee said serving water to customers is part of being a polite hostess. “When I go to a restaurant, I hope someone can give me water — cold water or hot tea,” she said. “Do you just say, ‘Are you ready to order?'”
Lee said she hopes the law is flexible enough that she can ask customers if they want water — and not just wait for customers to request it. Already, she said, when water is left on tables “I throw it on my plants because I feel so guilty.”
Two of her customers, Marilyn Keever and Barbara Fairburn, said waiting for a water request is a good idea.
But Keever joked that she has an even better one: “If you ask for water, you have to drink the whole thing, or you’ll be arrested, handcuffed and taken away.”