California weighs bringing back drought-era water restrictions

SACRAMENTO — A proposal to make California’s drought-era water restrictions permanent could allow the state to chip away at long-held water rights in an unprecedented power grab, representatives from water districts and other users told regulators Tuesday.
Members of the state Water Resources Control Board delayed a decision about whether to bring back what had been temporary water bans from California’s drought, spanning 2013 to 2017.
The plan is part of an effort to make water conservation a way of life, with climate change expected to lead to longer, more severe droughts.
It comes after U.S. officials declared that nearly half the state, all of it in the south, is back in drought just months after emerging from it.
Officials from several irrigation and water agencies said the restrictions are reasonable, but not the plan to impose them under the state Constitution’s prohibition on the “waste or unreasonable use” of water.
The restrictions, punishable by a $500 fine, include prohibitions on watering lawns so much that the water flows into the street, using a hose to wash down sidewalks or using a hose without an automatic shut-off nozzle to wash cars.
Running an ornamental fountain without a recirculating system would be barred, as would watering outside within 48 hours of a good rain.
Another measure would give cities and counties until 2025 to stop watering ordinary street medians.
Water officials expect neighbors to be responsible for detecting and reporting most of the wasteful water use, and they have no plans to add more enforcement officers if the permanent restrictions are adopted.
Lawmakers also are considering whether to allow districts to enforce drought regulations, a power now reserved for the state.

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