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California: New mandatory water conservation rules for lawns, hotels, restaurants

Acknowledging that California's water conservation efforts are falling short as the state descends into a fourth year of punishing drought, the administration of Gov. Jerry Brown on Tuesday imposed new mandatory water conservation rules that will affect millions of people -- from how homeowners water their lawns to how restaurants and hotels serve their guests.

"There have been some heroic efforts that people have taken, but we are not seeing the efforts to step up and ring the alarm bells that the situation warrants," said Felicia Marcus, chairwoman of the State Water Resources Control Board, which approved the measures in Sacramento. "We're going to need to go further if it doesn't rain."

But enforcing the rules, which could carry fines of up to $500, will be left up to local cities, counties and water districts. And so far, very few have fined residents for wasting water.

Critics called the rules, which take effect April 15, a step in the right direction. But they said they are insufficient without more enforcement to avoid water shortages if the drought drags past this summer.

"At this point, we are failing. We are not meeting our goals," said Conner Everts, with the California Environmental Water Caucus, a nonprofit group. "At what point do we accept that this might be the fourth year of a 10-year drought and plan for that?"

The past three years have been the driest three years in California history dating back to the Gold Rush. On Tuesday, the Sierra snowpack was at 13 percent of its historic average, and many of the state's largest reservoirs were far below normal. Meanwhile, 2014 was the hottest year in recorded history in California and around the globe.

In January 2014, the governor declared a statewide drought emergency and asked Californians to cut water use by 20 percent voluntarily. But the state's urban and suburban residents have fallen short of that goal, cutting water use by only 9.7 percent from June to January, compared with the prior year.

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