California To Impose $10,000 Drought Fines As Options Dwindle

California Governor Jerry Brown believes the worst water wasters in the state should face fines as high as $10,000 during the worsening drought. The new legislation is the latest in a long string of attempts to better regulate water use in the state, many of which have been shut down by politics and legal disputes.

Jerry Brown announced a proposal on Tuesday to allow cities and municipal governments to increase the fines they charge for excessive water use from $500 to $10,000 for the worst abusers. In addition, the local governments could deputize staff members to issue the citations in the community.

The new fines might help towns meet the governor’s mandate to reduce water use by 25 percent, but many are skeptical.

Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin explained, “I cannot imagine for the life of me having to use that tool. We’ve already seen our residents step up.”

California’s communities have resisted issuing large tickets so far, instead saying education and notices have been more effective. According to the Los Angeles Times, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has sent out about 7,300 warnings, and only 10 citations: eight for $100 and two for $200.

Whether or not the new fines will have an effect, the governor appears to be running out of other options.

On Monday, Democratic legislators killed a bill to expedite water storage projects near Fresno and north of Sacramento according to ABC News. The governor has been under pressure to push water infrastructure projects through the state’s time-consuming environmental reviews.

Likewise, last week, an appeals court ruled that a tiered pricing scheme for water use was unconstitutional. Under California’s constitution, water providers can only charge the cost of providing the water. The tiered pricing would have brought additional charges to those people using large amounts of water during the drought, but it didn’t necessary reflect purely costs.

Even some Northern California communities are challenging the governor’s 25 percent cut, claiming that longstanding water rights protect them from making sacrifices for other drought-ridden communities.

Along with the legal challenges facing Governor Brown, critics argue the government isn’t doing enough to press agricultural water users to make drought adjustments. Currently, farmers take up about 80 percent of the water that goes to human use, and 40 percent of water use overall.

Despite all the problems, drought success stories are emerging.

In the coastal city of Santa Cruz, the city has issued $1.6 million worth of fines for drought-time water guzzlers, but only collected about half of that. The reason is that residents that receive fines can opt to go to “water school” instead of paying. In water school the people are taught about the severity of the current drought and given ways to reduce usage.

Likewise, San Diego is doing “remarkably well” on water conservative according to Mayor Kevin Faulconer. In addition, the city is investing heavily in water recycling and desalinization to increase the local supply.

As for the new California drought fines, the proposal still needs to be hammered out by lawmakers.

[Image Credit: Getty Images]