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California moves to kill the lawn, save the water

April 2, 2015

LONG BEACH, California (AP) — What’s it going to take to get people to use a lot less water in drought-stricken California, the Technicolor landscape of lush yards, emerald golf courses and aquamarine swimming pools?

The state may be about to find out as it imposes the first mandatory water-use restrictions in California history later this year.

Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday ordered a 25 percent overall cutback in water use by cities and towns, but not farms, in the most sweeping drought measures ever undertaken by the nation’s most populous state.

The crackdown comes as California moves toward its fourth summer of drought with no relief in sight. Record low snowfall over the winter has left the state of nearly 40 million people with a year’s worth of water in its reservoirs, and dwindling groundwater for wells.

Brown’s move to get tough on water use came after his push for voluntary conservation yielded mixed results. Asked by Brown in January 2014 to cut their water consumption by 20 percent, Californians achieved only about half that.

Affluent Southern California communities with lots of landscaping on automatic timers were some of the worst offenders, topping 300 gallons (1,140 liters) of water per person a day compared with 70 gallons (265 liters) for some San Francisco Bay Area communities.

State water officials will now draw up the emergency regulations to carry out the governor’s order and hope to have them ready for enactment in May, said George Kostyrko, spokesman for the state Water Resources Control Board.

Homeowners will get rebates for replacing lawns with greenery more suited to the semi-arid state and for installing more water-thrifty appliances and plumbing fixtures. The state also will press water agencies to impose higher, graduated rates to discourage water guzzling.

Homeowners and water districts that violate the rules will be subject to fines, but many of the enforcement details have yet to be worked out.

Some water experts and economists are dubious the crackdown will succeed.

Californians will embrace saving water if they feel everyone is doing the same, water experts said. Brown’s cutback order, however, exempts agriculture, which consumes 80 percent of all the water that Californians use.

“In times of scarcity, human nature is to do one’s share if you think others are making similar sacrifices,” said Jonas Minton, a former senior state water official, now an adviser to the California-based Planning and Conservation League policy group. “When it appears others are taking more than their share, it can be reduced to every person for themselves.”

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Associated Press writer Scott Smith contributed to this article from Fresno and Fenit Nirappil contributed from Sacramento. Ellen Knickmeyer reported from San Francisco.

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