5 Things You Need To Know: New Water Restrictions In California

Water Restriction ViolationIrrigation run off like this is now prohibited by the new water regulations in California and could result in a $500 fine...per day.

The State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) approved emergency drought regulations on July 15 prohibiting the application of potable water to outdoor landscapes in a manner that causes runoff. They also approved prohibiting potable water in a fountain or other decorative water feature unless the water is part of a recirculating system. The new water restrictions also bar residents and commercial water users from using drinkable water to hose off sidewalks and driveways, or wash cars without a shutoff nozzle.

The regulations start on August. 1. Violations of the water restrictions will be a criminal infraction, punishable by a fine of up to $500 for each day in which the violation occurs. Any employee of a public agency charged with enforcing laws will be able to write and issue a ticket to the violator. State regulators will also be able to fine urban water agencies $10,000 a day if they fail to implement water conservation plans.

$500 fine for Runoff – What is Runoff?

Runoff is defined in the regulation as any such water that flows onto adjacent property, non-irrigated areas, private and public walkways, roadways, parking lots, or structures. This is discretionary.  A fine of up to $500 for runoff is causing some property owners to panic, but the local officials know the importance of education in conservation and want to maintain good relationships with their customers.  The penalty is not a mandatory penalty, but an excellent way to gain the attention of water wasters.  Most local agencies will likely issue warnings and not jump directly to fines.

Landscape Water Budgeting Allowed in Eligible Water Districts

This is the real news nobody is talking about. Local water suppliers can now ask the water board for approval of an alternate plan that involves an allocation-based rate structure.  The allocation based rate structure is a way to charge consumers more for the water they waste.  The local water agencies determines based on the number for people in your home and the amount of landscape area you have, how much water you should be using.  When you cross the normal amount the price goes up significantly.  This gives owners the opportunity to properly manage their water and move away from actions like two day a week watering.  This has proven to be a much better way to provide incentive for owners to save water.

What You Can do to Reduce Runoff?

Advanced techniques such as programming controllers with short runtimes and multiple cycle starts, commonly referred to as “cycle and soak”, allows water the opportunity to infiltrate into the soil while minimizing runoff. By reprogramming a spray zone to run for 4 minutes with 2 start times instead of one long 10 minute runtime we can easily reduce watering by 20% while reducing runoff.

Smart controllers are designed to specifically apply precise amounts of water to the landscape by modifying watering schedules on a daily basis. Smart controllers typically reduce consumption by 15% to 20% in comparison to conventional controllers. For existing smart controller users, most smart controllers have the ability to reduce daily auto generated, ET watering schedules by an additional percentage.

Consider high efficiency nozzles and pressure regulation. High efficiency nozzles are designed to apply water with more uniform coverage at low application rates which minimize the potential of runoff. When coupled with pressure regulated sprinklers, irrigation efficiency can improve by 20% which will assist in meeting watering restrictions. Just remember even though high efficiency nozzles apply water more efficiently, they do so at low application rates which require slightly longer run times.

Convert overhead irrigation to drip irrigation. Replacing overhead sprinklers with low flow, high efficiency drip irrigation is an excellent way to save water especially in sparsely planted shrub beds. When drip conversions are added to turf conversions, water savings can be as high as 60% to 75%. By applying water directly to the plant where it is needed and not to bare soil, efficient water usage can be maximized. Drip irrigation also virtually reduces the possibility of runoff and wasted water.

The drought appears to be getting worse in California.  The state used more water this year compared to last year, but it has been much hotter and rain fall is down significantly.  Judging by the amount of calls we received last week The State Water Resources Control Board has been successful gaining the attention of water users with potential fines.  I think the most important thing to remember is the response to drought needs to include changes that impact long term water use habits.  Property owners should take advantage of the rebates available today and make long term changes to their irrigation systems using the technology available to save water.

Learn More About Richard Restuccia. If you like this post please consider subscribing to the blog or follow me on twitter at @H2oTrends.

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Richard Restuccia

Richard Restuccia is a water management evangelist. He believes passionately in water efficiency and sees the financial and social benefits far too often to keep a secret. Richard is a spokesperson at industry events and on the Hill to provide direction and insight on landscape water management best practices. Richard puts his words into action through service on various boards and committees. Currently he serves on the Irrigation Association’s Board of Directors. As a board member, Richard serves in a variety of capacities, including government/public affairs. He is the liaison between the board and its marketing committee on the best ways to promote water efficiency and educate industry professionals on new technologies, products and services. Richard is also a regular contributor to Lawn & Landscape Magazine.


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  1. Sunday, 10:27 Aron Roberts

    Thanks for this great summary of several approaches to improving water use efficiency in landscape watering, Richard!

    There’s an interesting outdoor/indoor convergence, around saving water in California’s bad drought – and in the West’s 14-year dry spell – that I wanted to share with you … did you know that the currently top-rated fixed showerhead on Amazon was born of agricultural irrigation tech, not traditional showerhead R&D?

    A story in the San Francisco Chronicle about the showerhead:

    Amazon’s top rated (see the High Sierra model at top left):

    An in-depth review:

    The owner/founder of this company also owns a low-impact sprinkler business, and his dad worked at Rain Bird and Toro, among other ag irrigation companies.

  2. [...] runoff from the curb back into the mainline. Habitual runoff offenders who are undeterred by $500 fines will be whisked off to irrigation jail where their only way out is posting a water [...]

  3. [...] However, it was not until July 2014, when the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) approved emergency drought regulations to prohibit the application of potable water to outdoor landscapes in a manner that causes runoff. [...]

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