California Drought Update: New Water Restrictions

The hopes that California had for a wet enough winter to end the persistent drought are all but gone, and the state is rapidly heading into its fourth dry year. A combination of record-high winter temperatures in 2014, low rainfall, and high demand has created a dangerous situation for a state with both high population and agricultural demands. And, with no end to the drought in sight, things are beginning to look dire.

An unusually wet December had many hoping that the drought would follow a typical three year cycle and finally break in 2015, or at least diminish in severity, but those hopes have been dashed. January saw rainfall at record low levels, with many places throughout the state receiving no rain at all during a month that is typically the heart of the rainy season. The Sierra Nevada snowpack, which usually holds 30% of the water the state uses throughout the year, is also now at a level that is a record-breaking low of 12% of normal. There were brief hopes that an El Nino weather system would help provide some rain late in the season, but even those hopes have faded as winter turns into spring.

All of this means that now more than ever the entire state of California needs to dedicate itself to strict water conservation. Last year Governor Jerry Brown declared a State of Emergency that called on residents to cut their water use by 20%, and while some strides were made in that direction for the most part the goal was not met. Water savings varied wildly from month to month, with some of the summer months actually seeing an increase in water use from the previous year. The only month that met the Governor’s conservations standard was the rainy month of December when outdoor water use plummeted, but that may have actually had an adverse effect on conservation overall as total water use increased sharply the next month as people let go of their water saving habits.

To that end the State Water Resources Control Board voted last week to implement new regulations statewide that are aimed and cutting back on water use and waste. The Board unanimously voted to implement the regulations that will affect every water agency in the state and be enacted in 45 days. The new regulations call for every district in the state to limit the number of days per week its customers can water their lawns and other landscaping if they do not already, marking the first time that any state has enforced conservation requirements for every one of its water districts. In addition to the watering restrictions, the SWRCB has also implemented new rules about water use by institutions such as restaurants as hotels, changing what had previously been suggestions into mandatory standards.

The new rules implemented by the board include prohibiting restaurants from serving water to customers unless it is requested, as well as requiring hotels to prominently notify guests that they have the option of not having their linens cleaned every day. These regulations are in addition the rules put into place by the board last year that were extended into 2015, including prohibitions against washing down sidewalks, excessive watering, and washing cars with a hose that does not have a nozzle. Water districts have the ability to fine customers $500 for not following these conservation regulations, although fines have not yet been a tool frequently used by many districts.

Thankfully, pools and spas were once again not included on the SWRCB’s list of water-wasters. While the use of decorative fountains and water features without a recirculating pump is still prohibited, this is a sensible measure from last year that has been extended. However this does not mean that the pool and spa industry should be complacent about the year ahead, as individual water districts still have the power to severely limit and even completely cut off the amount of water that pools and spas can use. As an industry we must remain vigilant in watching out for water districts that have passed water restrictions for pools and spas so that no one is put out of business by a lack of water. There is a great deal of misinformation out there about the amount of water that pools actually use, and unfortunately the misconception that pools are water wasters can lead to devastating consequences for the industry. The CPSA is continuing our effort from last year to monitor for such restrictions and work with the water districts to modify or roll them back, but it is not a task that we can take on alone. We rely on our members to let us know when such a regulation has been proposed in our area, and the hard work of a few dedicated individuals can make all the difference when working with a district. Additionally, sharing the information from the Let’s Pool Together campaign on how individuals can further save water with their pools goes a long way towards reducing water use overall.

Now more than ever it is critical for the pool and spa industry to come together and present a united front during this time of unprecedented drought. The CPSA is dedicated to protecting the industry from harmful and unnecessary regulations, but needs the support of members. Become a member today or make a contribution to the Drought Crisis Fund, and email [email protected] to find out more ways that you can help. We’re all counting on you.

John Norwood is president of CPSA.

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