By James Poulos.
California’s ongoing water crisis promised to extend the controversy over fines and regulations well into the next year — if not beyond. While some areas suffer, others flourish, and fines — in some instances aggressively applied — have been meted out unevenly.
Despite limiting water use, residents in lower-income areas have complained that they have faced substantial fines, while some of the Golden State’s most conspicuous consumers have escaped penalty. In Apple Valley, “where the median household income is below $50,000 a year,” some have struggled to keep their consumption below the limit, while one “home under construction in Bel Air has been issued permits for five pools,” the New York Times reported:
“Los Angeles officials hope to start imposing fines so steep that even the wealthy who populate Bel Air will notice. Elsewhere, though, fines have already piled up on middle-class Californians. The Central Valley city of Clovis, faced with an order to cut back 36 percent, has meted out more than 23,000 fines since the mandatory water reductions began in June. In Santa Cruz, where water supplies have run dangerously low, the city has assessed more than $1.6 million in penalties for using too much water.”
Mid-month, Gov. Jerry Brown issued a fresh order expanding and strengthening his strict water policies. “The order gives state water officials greater authority to deal with drought conditions and to cope with potential winter storms from El Nino, a periodic warming of ocean surface temperatures,” as Reuters reported, extending emergency conservation “through October if California still faces a drought in January. The order also extends the suspension of some environmental rules, lets some state residents capture more water and expedites rebuilding permits for power plants damaged by wildfires.”
Localities have braced for the new, unprecedented groundwater regulations as officials have been dispatched to implement and enforce them. “They are under orders to begin actively managing underground aquifers that for generations have been treated as a private resource, with property owners empowered to dig wells and extract as much water as they wanted without particular regard for their neighbors or government agencies,” the Sacramento Bee noted.
“But even amid the sobering accounts of dried-up wells, salt-tainted groundwater and collapsing aquifers in California farm country, no one expects regulation will be easy to set up or sell. Instead, the entire process — starting with just who gets to decide how much water can be ‘sustainably’ pumped in a region — is expected to spark lengthy debate and complicated lawsuits. This is particularly true in farm-rich regions such as Kings County, where the groundwater basins are critically overdrawn.”