On Monday, August 29, 2016, Gov. Jerry Brown signed new Hill's Senate Bill 814, that allows water suppliers to use extreme measures to prevent waste and unreasonable use of water in California during one of the most severe droughts documented in the last century. Existing law states that a violation of water conservation program can be punished by "imprisonment in a county jail for not more than 30 days, or by a fine not exceeding $1,000, or both."
The new bill targets single-family homes and multiunit housing complexes. Dealing with water violators is up to the local water agencies. According to the bill, they must establish a method to identify and discourage excessive water use, several options included:
1. Enable a personalized tiered-rate structure that allows establishing surcharges over and above rates for excessive water use by a residential water customer, simply put, charge more for violations.
2. Perform site audit of customer water usage before considering the client in violation. The civil administrative penalty may include, but is not limited to, a fine of up to $500 for each 100 cubic feet of water (748 gallons) above the excessive water use threshold. Any fine will be added to the customer's water bill.
When this bill takes its effect on January 1, 2017, the names of water-guzzlers who aren't compliant with California conservation standards could be made public, a shaming strategy that supposedly will work better for some people who don't mind paying extra $500 for every 748 gallons above the excessive use definition.
The bill makes mandatory requirements more flexible for urban water suppliers. As a result, they can charge higher rates to their clients, and use different technics to prevent water waste. A public record act allows requesting a list of rule breakers.
The bill was inspired by egregious Southern California stories about extreme water violators who ignore the statewide drought. It was drafted based on a San Mateo resident's suggestion in Hill's "Oughta Be A Law Contest" that had provisions requiring the make the names of excessive water users public. The "shaming in public" tactic used successfully by the East Bay Municipal Utility District who listed a list of nearly 1,000 water rule breakers, not just can be used by any local water authority, but will become a requirement at the beginning of 2017. Now every single home resident is under a siege.
Due to a slight El Niño climate improvements, on May 18, 2016, the California Water Boards adopted a new emergency water conservation regulations to replace the February state-developed, demand-driven standards with locally developed standards based on each supplier specific water supply reliability conditions. According to the proposal, urban water agencies are required to reduce potable water use by a percentage equivalent to the projected shortfall in the three-dry-years scenario.
While most expected El Niño to lift the drought threat, California is experiencing the temperature increase that causes more surface water to evaporate. Mountain snow and rain fell short of expectations. The amount of water collected in the snow for the Sierra Nevada average 14 percent below normal on April 1, 2016. The Southern Sierra is 27 percent below normal compared to 5 percent in the north. The snow that falls in the winter accounts for roughly 30 percent of California's water supply.
The US Drought Monitor reports that fifty-five percent of California is suffering from extreme to severe drought in 2016. This is a far cry from what most had hoped would be a drought-lifting season due to the strong El Niño.
The National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center is projecting a 75% chance of La Niña developing during this fall. La Niña is a counterpart of El Niño. While El Niño represents a warming of ocean temperatures, La Niña is a cooling pattern in the Pacific, usually 3-5 degrees Celsius.
It may not sound like much, but the cooling effect can lead to a variety of climate phenomena, from increased rainfall, catastrophic floods, cyclones, and hurricanes to extremely dry conditions. These conditions can persist for up to two years. Both La Niña and El Niño severe effects on atmospheric pressure, rainfall patterns and the global atmospheric circulation (massive movement of air.)
Dave Pierce, the researcher of Scripps Institution of Oceanography climate center, believes that La Niña will enhance the chances of a dry winter, the most promising season to release the drought conditions. It's a 75 percent chance prediction, but it gives a reason to think California will not emerge from the drought anytime soon. The drought can get even worse.
Historically, a strong La Niña in 1973-1974 was very wet in California. The 1975-1976 La Niña caused the two-year drought. On average, it tends to be wetter in the Northwest Pacific and drier as you go south.
No matter El Niño or La Niña, the State Water Resources Control Board is encouraging Californians to keep conserving water. It expects local water suppliers to set water conservation as a top priority. 60 percent of the state remains in severe drought. Groundwater basins and reservoirs are depleted as California drought grinds into its fifth year. The state Water Action Plain "Make Conservation a California Way of Life" is an ongoing effort for residents and agencies alike. A wider effort to establish permanent conservation measures that improve long-term drought zeal and prevent the worst water-wasting practices.