State implements new water conservation measures and warns of the potential for harsher restrictions

Jun 8, 2022

California has enacted a new emergency regulation in response to worsening drought conditions and lagging conservation efforts. The emergency regulation bans the watering of nonfunctional or purely decorative grass in commercial, industrial, or institutional properties with potable water.

The new rules are expected to go into effect within the next week or so. Local governments, water suppliers, and the California State Water Resources Control Board can use their own discretion when communicating and enforcing the ban.

Enforcement actions may include warning letters, conservation orders, and fines up to $500 per day. Agencies are encouraged to provide additional assistance to disadvantaged communities and translate conservation updates into non-English languages.

Some types of nonfunctional turf are exempt from the new regulations. The ban does not apply to residential properties but does apply to the common areas of subdivisions and properties controlled by homeowner associations. The regulations also do not apply to property used for recreational purposes, community events, sports fields, or areas irrigated with recycled wastewater. There are also exceptions for tree health if property owners meet certain conditions. 

Additionally, urban water suppliers must activate local drought plans that prepare for a water shortage of up to 20% by June 10. Water suppliers without a water shortage contingency plan may take alternative compliance actions if certain conditions are met. All other suppliers must undertake several actions as outlined in the emergency regulations.

The state has also relaunched the Save Our Water campaign to help raise awareness about the drought and water conservation. The campaign website includes a public engagement toolkit in English and Spanish, which will be updated again later this year. Save Our Water has also released a short, educational video that local water agencies can use in their outreach efforts. 

Statewide mandates possible later this year

Statewide, water conservation efforts have lagged or decreased. Although some water regions posted conservation gains in April, many regions saw their usage increase by double digits — in some cases as high as 25% according to a recent report from the State Water Board. Last July, Gov. Gavin Newsom called for a 15% voluntary water cut. Since then, Californians have only reduced their water usage by 3.7%. 

Drought conditions are also worsening. The latest U.S. Drought Monitor update shows that 12% of the state is in an “exceptional drought,” up from 0% in March. Historically, these conditions lead to the loss of agricultural products, recreational activities, and widespread habitat loss, along with higher unemployment, food insecurity, increased greenhouse gas emissions, and a more costly fire season. 

The Governor is calling on local agencies to adopt more aggressive water conservation strategies but has stopped short of issuing a statewide mandate. However, during a recent meeting with urban water suppliers, it was clear that the state may enact mandatory restrictions later this year if this trend does not reverse. 

Information about the state’s drought relief and water conservation measures, including drought assistance programs, can be found at California Drought Action.