California weighs permanent restrictions for water wasters

A series of measures aimed at conserving water may become permanent in California now that nearly half the state is again struggling with drought conditions.

Some climate scientists say drought that began 5 years ago never fully ended in parts of Southern California.

In this May 6, 2015, file photo, professional spa remover Juan Alexander empties a spa for permanent removal at a residence in which the owner considered it a waste of water, in Garden Grove, Calif. (Damian Dovarganes/Associated Press)

That sign in hotel rooms asking guests if they really need their towels and sheets washed each day would become the rule in California, enforced with a $500 fine, if water officials vote to make a series of smaller-scale conservation measures permanent in the drought-prone state.

Members of the state Water Resources Control Board are scheduled to decide Tuesday whether to bring back what had been temporary water bans from California's 2013-2017 drought and make them permanent.

U.S. drought monitors last week declared that nearly half the state, all of it in Southern California, is now back in drought, just months after the state emerged from that category of drought.

In this May 6, 2015, file photo, local resident Martha Mattison, left, helps out her son, Jacob with his dog walking business, as they walk past recently installed synthetic grass, seen at right, in Garden Grove, Calif. (Damian Dovarganes/Associated Press)

Most of the restrictions would take effect in April. They include prohibitions on watering lawns so much that the water flows into the street, using a hose to wash down sidewalks, or using a hose without an automatic shut-off nozzle to wash cars.

Hotels would have to ask guests about those towels and sheets. Running an ornamental fountain without a recirculating system would be barred, as would watering outside within 48 hours of a good rain. Another measure would give cities and counties until 2025 to stop watering ordinary street medians.

Many of the measures, like the one on hotel towels, are already widely followed, and common sense, said Max Gomberg, a state water-conservation official.

"Nothing's more wasteful than when the rain is falling from the sky and the sprinkler's on," he said.

Water officials expect neighbours to be responsible for detecting most of the wasteful water use and they have no plans to add more enforcement officers if the permanent restrictions are adopted. Generally, first-time offenders would get warnings, while repeat offenders risk fines.

California already has a website,, that allows citizens to report wasteful water use.

Gov. Jerry Brown lifted California's drought emergency status a year ago, after a wet winter that snapped a historic 2013-2017 drought. Strict 25 per cent conservation orders for cities and towns and other watering restrictions phased out with the end of the emergency status.

Some climate scientists say the drought never fully ended in parts of Southern California. The Los Angeles area has received just a fourth of normal rainfall so far this rainy season. The U.S. Drought Monitor said last week that 46 per cent of the state is back in drought, all of it in California's south.