TIME Environment

Unprecedented California Drought Restrictions Go Into Effect

Poor water conservation could cost you up to $500 a day

California implemented emergency water-conservation measures today as it struggles to cope with an ongoing drought that has sapped reservoirs and parched farms across the state.

The new rules — the first statewide curbs on water use since the current drought began nearly three years ago — can lead to fines of up to $500 per day for using a hose to clean a sidewalk, running ornamental fountains that do not recirculate water and other wasteful behaviors. The regulations will be in effect for 270 days, unless they are repealed earlier.

Officials have said they don’t expect to issue too many tickets. Instead, they hope the rules will promote conservation by making it clear how serious the drought in California has become.

“We were hoping for more voluntary conservation, and that’s the bottom line,” Felicia Marcus, chair of the State Water Resources Board, told TIME when the body voted to approve the regulations on July 22. “We hope this will get people’s attention.”

An earlier effort to do that landed with a thud. In January, Governor Jerry Brown issued an emergency declaration and called for residents to voluntarily cut their water use by 20%. Earlier this month, a state survey found that California actually used more water in May than the previous three year average for that month. With the entire state experiencing some degree of drought and 80% of it in an extreme drought, the new measures are the latest effort to wake residents to the crisis.

“We can’t count on it raining next year or even the next,” Marcus said.

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