California considers emergency water rules, steep fines to cope with drought

California could impose its first fines this summer in response to the state’s ongoing drought and water shortage. The state’s Water Resources Control Board will vote on emergency regulations Tuesday afternoon.

The rules would prohibit individuals from allowing runoff during outdoor watering, washing cars with open hoses, spraying down sidewalks or other hard surfaces, and using potable water in decorative fountains. There would be a $500 fine for breaking those rules.

Under the emergency regulations urban water suppliers would also have to limit customers’ outdoor watering to two days a week (or some similar limit that produces the same results) and producing monthly water use monitoring reports. Agencies that don’t comply can be fined up to $10,000 a day, according to the San Jose Mercury News. Many of the state’s households, including about a million in San Jose, are serviced by private water agencies, which are not regulated by the state water board.

While the Mercury News reports the fines are unprecedented, Californians followed similar guidelines issued by Gov. Jerry Brown in 1976 and 1977, during the state’s worst drought. Brown again called on Californians to reduce their water usage by 20 percent this January, but the Los Angeles Times reported the guidelines were largely ignored.

California is in its third year of drought and a report released Tuesday by the University of California, Davis projects the drier-than-normal conditions will persist through 2015, even if an El Niño weather system develops over the Pacific Ocean as expected this winter.

So far this year, UC Davis researchers estimate, the drought has cost the state’s economy a $2.2 billion with agriculture alone taking a $1.5 billion hit.