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Californians could be fined for violating emergency water regulations

The lawn in front of the California State Capitol in Sacramento on June 18. As the California drought continues, groundskeepers have let sections of the lawn die in an effort to conserve water. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

California is considering a measure that could lead to $500-a-day fines for residents who waste water as the state faces a devastating and extended drought.

The State Water Resources Control Board announced a proposal Wednesday that would let local governments fine those who hose surfaces such as driveways, sidewalks and asphalt, use hoses without shut-off nozzles, or run fountains without recirculating water. The proposal will be discussed by the board in a public meeting Tuesday in Sacramento.

“Is this enough? No,” said Felicia Marcus, chairwoman of the board on a conference call with reporters Wednesday. Marcus said she hopes Californians go beyond in their water conservation. “Having a dirty car and a brown lawn is a badge of honor.”

In its current state, the proposal lacks direct guidelines for how local governments should enforce it. Marcus said there is a possibility that the board’s regulations could escalate and become more direct, however. “I think it’s as limited as our creativity and our prudence.”

Gov. Jerry Brown, who declared a state of emergency in January, has asked residents to reduce water usage by 20 percent, but it has only dropped by 5 percent, according to data through May from the board.

Marcus is worried that some Californians are dismissive of the need to conserve water, either because they live in urban areas where the effects of the drought aren’t immediately visible, or because of a belief that the drought will end. “You can hope for rain, but that’s not a strategy,” she said, pointing to Australia’s drought that lasted longer than a decade. “It’s like buying a lottery ticket and calling it a retirement plan.”

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Hunter Schwarz covers the intersection of politics and pop culture for the Washington Post

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