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State orders new water conservation mandates; Impacts all residents including Plumas

Debra Moore

Staff Writer

Plumas County is considering declaring a local disaster as drought continues to impact the state.

Jerry Sipe, the county’s environmental health director, discussed the state and local drought situation with the Board of Supervisors on July 15, the same day the state water board enacted emergency water conservation measures that affect all Californians.

Emergency drought measures

The State Water Resources Control Board passed emergency water regulations July 15 that go into effect Aug. 1 for at least 270 days. The following apply to all Californians. Individual water suppliers can implement their own drought measures.

All Californians will be expected to stop:

—Washing down driveways and sidewalks.

—Watering of outdoor landscapes that cause excess runoff.

—Using a hose to wash a vehicle unless it is fitted with a shut-off nozzle.

—Using potable water in a fountain or decorative water feature unless the water is recirculated.

The state is focusing on outdoor watering, which accounts for more than 50 percent of daily residential water use.

“We are facing the worst drought impact that we or our grandparents have ever seen,” said State Water Board Chair Felicia Marcus. “And, more important, we have no idea when it will end. This drought’s impacts are being felt by communities all over California.”

While the impacts haven’t been felt as keenly in Plumas County as elsewhere in the state, Sipe cautioned that could change. Already residents and entities that depend on springs for their water are being asked to defend their usage as a matter of health and safety.

Local lodges that rely on springs as their sole source of water could close if they are denied usage. Jobs could be lost.

The Alliance for Workforce Development has already begun to work with businesses that could be affected by the drought. There are funds and low-interest loans available to help those impacted.

A local declaration of emergency could make more money available.

The state’s emergency declaration goes into effect Aug. 1 and is effective for a minimum of 270 days.

It limits all Californians from some water usage and requires large water suppliers to activate their water shortage contingency plans.

Many jurisdictions have already taken those steps and have implemented steep fines for violators.

The emergency declaration makes it possible for individuals to be fined $500 per day for violations. Across the state, there have been numerous reports of neighbors turning in neighbors, and others posting photos of violations on Facebook.

According to the state declaration, all Californians must stop the following: washing down driveways and sidewalks; watering outdoor landscapes that cause excess runoff; using a hose to wash a vehicle unless it is equipped with a shut-off nozzle; using potable water in a fountain or decorative element unless it recirculates.

Sipe said that he is waiting for more direction from the state on how to implement some of its other directives on water conservation.

The state is requiring that water districts limit their customers to two days of outdoor watering per week or enact other mandatory measures to cut water usage from 2013.

“Very few can quantify that outdoor use,” Sipe said of local water districts.

Some districts had already recommended conservation measures. For example, the Quincy Community Services District implemented voluntary watering days, but will be holding a special board meeting to discuss the situation in light of the state’s recent actions.

Sipe said it’s critical that the water districts implement conservation measures because in addition to the $500 per day fines for individuals, water suppliers face daily fines of $10,000.

Dan West, of Graeagle Land & Water, said as of Friday, July 18,

he had yet to be notified of new state requirements.

But the water company had already been proactive and sent notices with its June 30 bills asking customers to reduce water consumption by 25 percent.

West said that Greagle Land & Water experienced a 10 percent decrease in usage in June, but it’s coming at a cost — the local ball fields are turning brown.

He said that while watering two days a week is effective in some areas, the rocky soil in Graeagle makes it preferable to water more often for shorter periods of time. West has contacted the state and asked for more direction.

Likewise, Sipe said that as soon as he receives more details and direction from the state Department of Health, which is now part of the Department of Water Resources, he will inform local jurisdictions.

Sipe is also working with the county’s drought preparedness task force, which includes a number of key officials. Supervisors Sherrie Thrall and Terry Swofford are members, and others who have attended are Planning Director Randy Wilson, Public Works Director Bob Perreault, Ag Commissioner Tim Gibson, Farm Advisor Holly George and Dave Keller, representing the Community Development Commission.

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