California bans watering of ‘nonfunctional’ grass

California’s water authorities approved emergency drought regulations Tuesday that strengthen conservation requirements for water providers statewide and ban lawn irrigation only decoration at properties and in common areas of subdivisions and homeowners associations.

Regulations prohibit the use of “non-functional” potable water in commercial, industrial and institutional settings.

The ban does not apply to private yards. There are also exemptions for sports fields, lawns where people gather, and watering to keep plants healthy.

The State Water Control Commission voted to adopt emergency drought regulations by executive order of Governor Gavin Newsom. The measures also require local water providers statewide to activate “Level 2” of their local contingency plans to prepare for shortages of up to 20%.

“We need to excite Californians and really focus on the conservation that we need to see,” said Joaquin Esquivel, chair of the state’s water board.

Regulations require each municipal water supplier to submit an annual water supply and demand assessment. Each agency that has submitted a shortfall contingency plan should take steps to reduce water use to prepare for a 10% to 20% shortfall.

Water agencies that do not have a contingency plan in place must take similar steps, including organizing a conservation-focused public information campaign and enforcing a two-day restriction on outdoor watering. a week, with limited hours before 10 a.m. or after 6 a.m. pm Water agencies have not yet submitted a plan to supply about 8% of the state’s population.

The regulations define “non-functional” grass as grass that is “for ornamental purposes only” and is not routinely used for recreational purposes or community events.

“Any part of the golf course that is used for the game of golf, such as the turf and fairways, is functional,” said Edward Ortiz, a spokesman for the state’s water board. “However, water authorities and golf courses need to assess whether other grass on the course is performing well.”

Areas irrigated with recycled wastewater are not prohibited from watering the lawn.

The emergency regulations will be in effect for one year and can be renewed by the state water management board.

Las Vegas is also taking a similar step, but on a long-term basis. Last year, the Nevada Legislature passed legislation banning the use of Colorado River water for “non-functional” grass along streets, in commercial areas like malls and shopping malls, as well as at homeowners and condominium associations. The law goes into effect in 2026.

The state’s water board approved the rules a day after Newsom met with leaders of major urban water suppliers and urged them to step up efforts to reduce water use. In July, Newsom urged Californians to voluntarily cut their water use by 15%. But the amount of water saved so far in March was 3.7% less than baseline 2020. Water use in cities and towns increased by nearly 19% in March, a particularly warm month. and drought.

Several people who attended the meeting said Newsom called the increased use of water a “black eye”. The governor warned that if conservation efforts do not improve over the next two months, his administration could be forced to impose mandatory statewide water restrictions.

During Tuesday’s meeting, council members heard representatives from water utilities and others urge them to avoid a “one size fits all” approach and stressed that some homeowners provide better because they have made progress in conservation and have invested in infrastructure . Some of these areas depend entirely on local water supplies.

Others expressed concern that regulations banning watering some grasses are punitive for homeowners associations and would increase costs.

Before passing the regulations, the state water board made some modifications to accommodate certain special circumstances. They allow some water agencies to implement less stringent conservation measures, consistent with the conservation measures of suppliers who have not yet submitted a shortage plan to the state, if their plan document the agency shows it can maintain a reliable supply through at least September 2023; if it does not rely on imported water or makes heavy use of a severely dwindling groundwater supply; and if their customers used less than 55 gallons per person per day – the amount means that only a small number of water suppliers are eligible.

Board members introduced another amendment that would allow water agencies to approve “non-functional” lawn watering requests if the property owner can certify that it is a weed. uses less water, requiring a fraction of the water consumed by standard grasses.

“We are in this unprecedented drought. We need to act like that,” said board member Laurel Firestone, advocating the regulations. “We need to make sure everyone is on deck. And we also need to take advantage of this opportunity to accelerate the adaptation to the efficiency needed in this new normal. “

The severe drought, now in its third year in California, is one of the most severe on record and is made worse by hotter temperatures and global warming.

Across the American West, scientists have found that the extreme dry spell since 2000 has become the driest 22-year period in at least 1,200 years, a super-drought that the study found. shown to be increasing by climate change. Scientists have described this trend as aridity, saying that the West must prepare for further heat drying as temperatures rise with the burning of fossil fuels and increasing levels of warming. increase in greenhouse gases.

“I wish we didn’t say drought because this is climate change. The drought is really over. And we’re constantly seeing these harsher and drier years,” commented Connor Everts, executive director of the Southern California Basin Alliance. “And if we don’t take that into account in the long run, we’ll keep talking.”

Meanwhile, Southern California cities and water counties are offering customers discounts to help cover the cost of converting lawns to a drought-tolerant landscape.

“The time has come to really, if not kill our lawns, lessen the impact of unsuitable landscapes in this state as we get drier and drier,” said Everts. “We have to react to the reality that we are in.”

The Metropolitan Water District in April declared a water emergency and ordered outdoor watering restrictions in parts of Los Angeles, Ventura and San Bernardino counties that rely on the State Water Project, which transports water south from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. The water restrictions will go into effect June 1 and aim to reduce water use by around 35%.

Esquivel said the increasing aridity facing California requires a transition.

“Conservation is not a destination. It is a journey. It further ensures that we have zero waste in our system, that our water values ​​reflect the huge costs we have to pay to move, to treat, to be able to supply water. safe statewide,” said Esquivel. “I think the signs are clear about the climate we all live in now, and what we’re going to have to do to continue to adapt – and do something California has always done, and that is innovate. ” California bans watering of ‘nonfunctional’ grass

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