California drought: State OKs sweeping restrictions on water use


Hotel guests must get a chance to decline fresh towels and sheets. Business operators must place signs in the bathroom reminding them they have this opportunity to conserve.

Servers in bars, restaurants and cafeterias can’t bring out water with menus and silverware unless customers ask. Some restaurants already have signs saying they don’t automatically serve water because of the drought. The rule is meant to raise conservation awareness more than save water.
California officials approved a package of far-reaching water restrictions Tuesday, limiting homes and businesses in much of the Bay Area and elsewhere to just two days of outdoor watering per week while cracking down on the way restaurants and hotels use water.

The rules mark unprecedented territory for the state, which has historically let local water agencies, with their unique supplies and demands, manage how customers use water. But with California poised for a fourth year of drought and conservation lagging, officials opted for statewide action.

The regulations, carrying fines up to $500, add to restrictions put in place last year that rein in outdoor water use – for example, barring people from hosing down driveways. The new terms tread deeper into homes, businesses and the lives of most Californians, and are indicative of the state’s worsening water woes.

“We are not seeing the stepping up and the ringing of alarm bells that the situation warrants,” said Felicia Marcus, chair of the State Water Resources Control Board, which voted unanimously for Tuesday’s conservation mandates.

The regulations require local water agencies that don’t already limit outdoor watering to certain days of the week to adopt a two-day-a-week policy. Among the Bay Area agencies that would have to impose the two-day limit are the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, serving the city’s more than 800,000 residents, as well as the Marin Municipal Water District and Contra Costa Water District. Agencies outside San Francisco that buy water from the SFPUC – including on the Peninsula and in parts of the East Bay – are affected only if they do not already impose watering limits.

“We are looking at how to best modify our current outdoor restrictions to comply with the new state order,” said Tyrone Jue, spokesman for the San Francisco water agency.

The city now requires residents to reduce watering by 10 percent from their 2013 consumption, though the statute is largely unenforced.