Three weeks after Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered increased water conservation because of the state’s worsening drought, a growing number of water agencies around the Bay Area are putting in place new rules that haven’t been seen since the middle of California’s last drought six years ago.
On Thursday, the Contra Costa Water District, which serves 500,000 people in central and eastern Contra Costa County, voted toask residents to cut water use 15% from 2020 levels. The district also announced that it will put in place a 15% drought surcharge starting July 1, which it said is needed to boost conservation and recoup reduced revenue from lower water sales.
The surcharge will amount to about $8 a month for the average home.
To the south, on Tuesday the Santa Clara City Council tightened its drought rules, limiting residents there to watering landscaping two days a week instead of the previous three.
The city also will expand public information and increase water waste patrols.
And next Tuesday, the board of the East Bay Municipal Utility District, which serves 1.4 million people in Alameda and Contra Costa counties, is scheduled to vote to toughen its drought rules.
“It’s all about getting through the summer and making sure we are in as good a place as we can be in case next year is dry,” said Andrea Pook, an East Bay MUD spokeswoman.
Likely to be on the list of new rules for East Bay MUD customers: a limit of three days a week of landscape watering, a drought surcharge of between 2% and 8%, and an excessive-water-use penalty for people who use eight times as much water or more than the district average.
East Bay MUD also may bring back rules that were in place during the last drought in which it makes public the names of the biggest residential water users in its service area — often executives and sports stars who are using 20 times or more as much water as the average homes to keep huge lawns emerald green despite the drought emergency.
Around the Bay Area and the state, cities and water districts are similarly tightening rules following Newsom’s order March 28.
That’s when the governor required urban water providers, including cities, water districts and private companies such as the San Jose Water Company to go to at least stage 2 in their drought contingency plans. Those plans, required by state law, have six levels of severity, with level 6 being the most severe. The details of each level vary by water district.
Contra Costa Water District’s stage 2 rules, imposed Thursday, do not mandate any days-of-the-week limits on watering landscapes.
Newsom last month also ordered the State Water Resources Control Board to draft rules that will prohibit large commercial businesses and industrial sites statewide from watering grass on their properties.
He chose not to impose statewide mandatory urban water targets, as former Gov. Jerry Brown did during the last drought from 2012 to 2016.
Some areas already had tougher rules in place. San Jose Water Company, which serves 1 million people, limited watering months ago to two days a week.
At an appearance Monday at Oroville Dam in Butte County, Newsom said the state has many different local conditions. Some places have more water than others, he said.
“We are working with our partners at the local level to make determinations based on hydrology and the reality in local parts of the state,” Newsom said. “It’s not a one size fits all.”
Newsom added that he did not expect there to be statewide “draconian” rules this year.
California is entering its third year in a row of drought. January, February and March this year were the driest three months of any year in Northern California since 1849, when records began. Reservoir levels remain below average in much of the state.
In July, Newsom asked Californians to voluntarily cut water use 15% from their 2020 levels. But from July through February, they fell far short, only reducing cumulatively by 5.8%.
“We have 16% lower per-capita consumption coming into this drought compared to the last drought,” he said. “Already there has been a big shift in California in terms of reducing water and not wasting water. That said, we still have to do a little bit more.”
Newsom’s target comes after some local water agency leaders pushed him not to impose statewide conservation targets. Reductions in water use cost water agencies millions of dollars, because their revenue drops, but their fixed costs, such as chemicals to make the water safe to drink, salaries for employees and maintenance on pipes, dams and pumps, remains the same.