By Jennifer Chaussee
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Water regulators in California approved stringent new conservation measures on Tuesday to limit outdoor water use, including fines of up to $500 a day for using a hose without a shut-off nozzle.
The new restrictions prohibit watering gardens enough to cause visible runoff onto roads or walkways, using water on driveways or asphalt, and in non-recirculating fountains.
“An emergency requires action, and today’s announcement is a much-needed response to California’s drought emergency," said Ed Osann, senior policy analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council, which supported the regulations.
The new restrictions will take effect on Aug. 1. Many cities and counties in the state have already imposed voluntary restrictions, but the new rules will allow municipalities to impose mandatory cutbacks and issue fines to those who do not comply.
California is in the third year of a catastrophic drought that has diminished the Sierra Nevada snow pack, which normally feeds the state's rivers and streams with cool water.
Democratic Governor Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency in January, committing millions to help stricken communities and temporarily easing protections for endangered fish to allow pumping from the fragile San Joaquin-Sacramento River delta.
The drought is expected to cost the state an estimated $2.2 billion this year, along with a loss of more than 17,000 jobs, as farmers are forced to fallow some valuable crops, a report by scientists at the University of California in Davis showed on Tuesday.
“The 2014 drought is responsible for the greatest absolute reduction in water availability for California agriculture ever seen,” the report said, adding the results "underscore California’s heavy reliance on groundwater to cope with droughts."
UC Davis scientists Richard Howitt and Jay Lund, who co-authored the report, said pockets along the state’s Central Valley, where farmers are relying on emergency groundwater reserves as other water resources have run dry, would be hit especially hard by economic losses.
Overall, the drought is expected to cause $2.2 billion in total economic losses in California this year, the report said. The estimated crop revenue loss amounts to $810 million, mostly because of water shortages that have forced many farmers to let their fields lie fallow.
Some 60 percent of fallowed cropland, where farmers once irrigated grazing fields or grew annual crops such as corn and beans, are in the San Joaquin Valley, where 70 percent of the state's agricultural revenue loss is concentrated.
Most of the 17,100 lost jobs, including seasonal and part-time agriculture work, are in the San Joaquin Valley.
(Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Bill Trott and Peter Cooney)
[Image: "West California 190 Signboard, Death Valley," via Shutterstock]