Residents of California face fines of up to $500 (£370) for wasting water, under new rules designed to reduce the effects of droughts.
Fines can be applied to those who water their grass within 48 hours of rainfall, fill decorative fountains or wash their cars without a shut-off nozzle on the hose under regulations adopted by the State Water Resources Control Board.
“These are just the practical everyday things that we all can be doing,” Sean Maguire, a member of the state water board, told the Los Angeles Times. He said the measures in the emergency drought regulations will “help with that mindset of water savings.”
However, critics have pointed out that the new rules fail to place any curbs on agricultural production, which accounts for nearly 80 per cent of the water that is diverted and pumped for human use each year.
In October 2021, motorists in the northern California town of Fairfield had to deal with flash floods as a powerful storm drenched communities in the region that were already scarred from devastating wildfires.
The so-called “bomb cyclone” of rain and wind created mudslides and brought down electric lines. The weather whiplash followed the busiest wildfire season in Californian history and heightened threats of flash flooding.
The new rules have been introduced despite heavy rain and record snowfall across the state in December, which offered some respite from a crippling drought.
In mid-December, 80 per cent of California was under extreme or exceptional drought conditions, though this was reduced to 30 per cent by the start of this year.
Governor Gavin Newsom last year called for every citizen to reduce their water usage by 15 per cent, but since July, the state’s water usage has only fallen by 6 per cent.
Despite the wet conditions in December, state climatologist Michael Anderson said forecasts show January, February and March could be drier than average.
The new rules will come into effect for one year and provide no exceptions for golf courses or other recreational facilities. Only where water use is necessary for public health and safety will exemptions be granted.
“Conserving water and reducing water waste are critical and necessary habits for everyone to adopt as we adjust to these uncertainties and we build resilience to climate change, so adopting emergency regulations now just makes sense,” said Eric Oppenheimer, the chief deputy director for the state water board.
“We need to be prepared for continued drought.”