Sprinkler
Sprinklers - Photo courtesy of Kseniia Ilinykh on Unsplash

The State Water Resources Control Board voted Tuesday to ban watering of non-functional turf at commercial, industrial and institutional properties, the latest in a series of steps to conserve water amid a historic drought.

The ban — which does not include turf at residences or turf used for recreation or community purposes — will be effective once approved by the Office of Administrative Law, which typically takes about 10 days, according to the board. Violations of the ban would be punishable by a fine of up to $500.

The board also voted to require local agencies to implement water-use restrictions — with such limits currently covering only about half of California’s population. The restrictions are aimed at addressing a shortage of water supplies that’s been pegged at up to 20%.

“The severity of this drought requires all Californians to save water in every possible way,” said Joaquin Esquivel, chair of the State Water Board. “The regulation compels water systems and local authorities to implement a range of additional critical conservation measures as we enter the hot and dry summer months.”

The board’s meeting came one day after Gov. Gavin Newsom renewed his calls for strict water conservation measures across California during a meeting with the state’s largest urban water suppliers. Newsom’s warning during that meeting was: If local efforts don’t save enough water, the state will have to step in and impose mandatory restrictions.

“Every water agency across the state needs to take more aggressive actions to communicate about the drought emergency and implement conservation measures,” he said. “Californians made significant changes since the last drought but we have seen an uptick in water use, especially as we enter the summer months. We all have to be more thoughtful about how to make every drop count.”

Newsom will meet with the agencies again in two months to get an update on conservation efforts. He also asked them to submit water use data more frequently and increase transparency so the state can more accurately measure whether it is meeting its conservation goals.

The city of Los Angeles has already moved forward on some stricter water-use limits.

Starting June 1, the city will enact two-day outdoor watering restrictions — down from the current three — with watering permitted at odd-numbered street addresses on Mondays and Fridays, and at even-numbered addresses on Thursdays and Sundays.

On Friday, Mayor Eric Garcetti met with California Natural Resources Agency Secretary Wade Crowfoot to highlight the need to protect the region’s trees, even with water restrictions, amid the historic drought.

Trees can capture stormwater, improve water quality and reduce flood risk, along with helping air quality and the impacts of heat waves.

Once the watering restrictions take effect in Los Angeles, outdoor watering with sprinklers will be limited to eight minutes per station. Sprinklers with water-conserving nozzles will be limited to 15 minutes per station. All watering will have to be done in the evening or early morning, with no watering permitted outdoors between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.

The two-day watering restrictions will be enforced by the Conservation Response Unit, which will focus on areas that are using the most water, according to DWP General Manager and Chief Engineer Marty Adams. He said when the restrictions were announced that the department will re-assign employees to ensure coverage in all areas of the city, and might bring on additional personnel during the summer.

Garcetti also said the water restrictions’ enforcement will begin with education for people who are violating the ordinance, but will escalate with fines and tickets if needed.

The city’s policy is less strict than some parts of L.A. County, which will be limited to one-day per week watering. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which supplies water to much of Los Angeles County — including the DWP — ordered areas that depend on water from the State Water Project to reduce outdoor watering to one day per week.

“Metropolitan agrees with and supports the governor’s urgent call for increased water conservation and reduction in water consumption as we approach the hotter and drier summer months,” MWD General Manager Adel Hagekhalil said Monday. “We appreciate the governor’s collaborative approach in addressing statewide drought conditions by allowing water agencies to determine the water savings actions appropriate for the specific circumstances of their communities,’

Hagekhalil also called for people to conserve water beyond the restrictions.

According to Newsom’s office, banning watering of decorative lawns would save between 156,000 acre-feet and 260,000 acre-feet per year, the equivalent of water used by 780,000 households in a year.

The governor’s office also urged people to shower for only five minutes or less, stop taking baths, only wash full loads of clothes and use a broom instead of a hose to clean outdoor areas.

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