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Is the California $500 Fines for Illegal Water Use Against the Law?

Despite the dry winter, California State Water Resources Control Board and cities representatives support the state water regulators in Sacramento to fine residents up to $500 per water violation.

Orginal water rules were set on a temporary basis during the California drought 2014-2017 by Gov. Jerry Brown. Now, according to the water conservation portal, it will, most likely, become a permanent Califonia law.

In May 2016 Gov. Brown issues an executive order B-37-16 to Make Conservation a California Way of Life. It sets forth actions created to eliminate water waste, strengthen drought resilience and improve residential and agricultural water use efficiency. The proposed regulation makes it illegal for anyone:

1. Housing off driveways, sidewalks and any other hardscapes.

California drought. Park, goose, lake, dry out lawn. Walnut Creek Community Park.

2. Washing a motor vehicle with a hose not equipped with a shut-off nozzle.

3. Using water in ornamental fountains or other decorative water features, unless it's listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

4. Watering lawns within 48 hours of rainfall.

5. Irrigating ornamental turf on public streets except for cities that use recycled water.

6. Providing new sheets and towels in a hotel or a motel without notifying guests that they have the option of re-using it.

When Gov. Jerry Brown called on the Californians to reduce their water use by 25% in 2015, they took it seriously. By 2016, residents minimized the amount of water they used by 24.5%. This grotesque water experiment had shown unexpected results. Along with keeping the water usage down, state residents also saved 1,830-gigawatt hours of electricity. According to Edward Spang, the associate director of the Center for Water-Energy Efficiency at UC Davis, "California is one the largest scale conveyance systems in the country." Roughly 19% of the state electricity is used for pumping, distributing, conveying, heating and treating water. The drought conservation programs are aka energy-efficiency.

Amid the plausible water savings strategy, a large number of state water agencies claim the regulations violate the water rights. East Bay municipal utility district wrote a comment letter on proposed "Wasteful and Unreasonable Water Use Practices" regulation, stating that " using waste and unreasonable use as the tool to reach these conservation objectives is problematic and inconsistent with the law. The Regulation is defective because it affects - if not the purpose - of diminishing water rights by legislative means, without any process whatsoever."

But the water law lawyers think that in this situation, the water board has rights to proceed with their proposal and the water rights argument isn't reliable. Jennifer Harder, an assistant professor at the McGeorge School of Law at the University of the Pacific, explained that one of the main reasons is the proposal is focused on extreme waste and "a prohibition on waste is one of the fundamental principles of all water rights since the beginning of water rights. There is no question that water rights do not include the right to waste water, which is what we are talking about in this resolution. We're not talking about broader conservation measures."

But the bigger issue is, if the proposal passes, it is setting a precedent. If the board can though seemingly-legislative means, enact this regulation, it can, in the future, declare specific uses to be wasteful and unreasonable without affording due process. Several proposal commenters called it a "slippery slope" of regulations. Here is a state versus local power conflict. It's unclear if water agencies will file legal action if the water board doesn't change its approach to the regulations.

Meanwhile, the winter's most significant storm began this week. The winters dryness has plunged much of California back into drought. The entire state is considered abnormally dry. Is this storm can offset a predicted severe drought in 2018? Unfortunately, the answer is no. It's almost impossible for one storm to end a drought.

A research center near Lake Tahoe found that the snowpack across Sierras is 27% of normal for February 1. It means it tied to the historic lows of 2014-2015. The state will likely wait several months before it officially declares a drought.

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