California Wants to Fine You $500 for Washing Your Car With a Garden Hose

Proposed water restrictions will do little to solve the state's water woes.


Vladyslav Bashutskyy/

Californians will have to start living with dusty cars and dry lawns if the state's Water Resource Control Board has its way.

The Board is proposing a number of strict prohibitions on water use to deal with a recently declared drought in southern California, including bans on washing your vehicle with a garden hose, watering your garden 48 hours after it rains, and even hosing down your driveway.

Businesses and cities will be affected too. No longer would your local government be allowed to water parkway median strips, nor would hotels be permitted to wash towels and sheets without first giving guests the chance to reuse them. Restaurants would be barred from offering unsolicited glasses of water during a state-declared drought.

If the Board's proposal goes into effect, engaging in any of this sort of water usage will earn the violator a hefty $500 fine.

The rules were first imposed on a temporary basis at the direction of California Governor Jerry Brown during the state's 2014 drought, and were phased out as the effects of the drought lessened in 2017. But with U.S. Department of Agriculture's Drought Monitor declaring 44 percent of the state to be in moderate to severe drought last week, The Water Resource Control Board is proposing to make them permanent.

Water Board Chairwoman Felicia Marcus told the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, "We're not in an emergency right now, but shame on us if we just bury our heads in the sand…allow people to go out and waste water by washing down the driveway with a hose when a broom would do."

Despite the Board's stated worries about waste, the proposed regulations would do little to curb water usage.

Of the 3.5 million acre-feet of water saved by all conservation methods during California's 2014-2017 drought, the Water Board estimates that only 1 percent of the savings—some 12,489 acre-feet—was a result of the end-user restrictions that might soon become permanent.

That's because the kinds of behaviors targeted by the proposed regulations make up a tiny fraction of California's water usage.

According to numbers compiled between 1998-2010 by the state's Water Resource Department, only 10 percent of California's water is consumed by urban uses across the state. Some 50 percent is used for environmental purposes, such as keeping streams and riverbeds wet. Another 40 percent is sucked up by the state's agribusinesses.

California's water woes, says Reed Watson, an environmental economics professor at Clemson University, will not be solved by piling on more restrictions on end-users.

"The fact is, if you look anywhere in the United States, water use restrictions do not address the systematic issue, which is price," Watson tells Reason.

California's system of water rights privileges agricultural interests, while restricting the ability of everyone in the system to trade the water rights they do have to the people willing to pay for it.

The result is a non-functioning pricing system that sells water to farmers for pennies per every thousand gallons, while urban users often shell out $2 to $3 for the same quantity.

Some of that price difference, says Walters, is the result of the higher costs involved in getting water to lawns in Los Angeles compared to alfalfa farms in California's central valley. A lot of it however has to do with the red tape on trading water rights between different uses.

A recent report by the R Street Institute and the Property and Environment Research Center found that the average price to transfer water from an agricultural user to a municipal user is $7,000 per acre-foot higher than transferring the same quantity between two agricultural users.

The dysfunctional, government-imposed price system leads California farmers to continue growing water-intensive crops in the midst of severe droughts. So far, the state has responded to this problem by restricting water usage, rather than by allowing for more market-driven pricing.

But says Watson, that such an approach is doomed to failure.

"Any proposed restriction that doesn't effect price is going to be ineffective at addressing the issue. A better way to do it is to charge people the full cost of their water and let them trade," he tells Reason. "Only when you do that will you have lack of waste."

The Water Resource Control Board is accepting public comment on its restrictions for another two weeks. No date has been set for finalizing the rules.

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  1. Water you saying here? They say we must DO SOMETHING, which inevitably ends up meaning DO SOMETHING highly visible and annoying, but actually ineffectual. “Water conservation theater”, then.

    WHO are ye, to disagree with the Government Almighty of California?

  2. Water Board estimates that only 1 percent of the savings?some 12,489 acre-feet?was a result of the end-user restrictions that might soon become permanent.

    That’s because the kinds of behaviors targeted by the proposed regulations make up a tiny fraction of California’s water usage.

    I’m sure you believe this fact has any bearing whatsoever on the upcoming decision.

  3. Central Planning at its worst.

    50% for environmental reasons and 40% for agribusiness sounds like that is where the cuts to water usage need to be.

    Maybe its just time for Taxifornia to get out of the ag business since it is a desert that needs water from the Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountains to survive.

    Commifornia could have built more reservoirs over the last 30 years to cover the huge boom in residents…But no…. they went with massive welfare, unlimited illegals, and making it a massive prison state.

    1. Yup this is all the almond lobby.

      1. They’re all nuts.

    2. Nuclear powered desalination plants would solve our problems, but the fucking environmentalists are Luddite anti-science lunatics who would blow up any such effort.

    3. “”Maybe its just time for Taxifornia to get out of the ag business since it is a desert that needs water from the Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountains to survive.””

      The California Central Valley is not a desert. It’s one of the most agriculturally productive regions in the world. The problem is the stupid water rights. No one pays for the water they use, it’s all an entitlement. Actually pay for the water and some farmers may indeed switch from rice to almonds, and some almond farmers might even get it in their head to switch to drip irrigation. But because of water rights you still have farmers practicing flood irrigation in the middle of state that has a drought problem.

      1. The Central Valley is not a desert but would be mostly grassland if not for water shipped in from the Sierra Nevad Mountains and Rockies.

        a region so arid because of little rainfall that it supports only sparse and widely spaced vegetation or no vegetation at all:
        The Sahara is a vast sandy desert.
        Synonyms: waste, wasteland, barren wilderness.
        any area in which few forms of life can exist because of lack of water, permanent frost, or absence of soil.

        Water rights are part of the problem but not addressing limited water supplies before the massive building of homes, will just cause a huge political mess.

        1. “”The Central Valley is not a desert but would be mostly grassland if not for water shipped in from the Sierra Nevad Mountains””

          You do realize that the Central Vally RIGHT NEXT TO THE SIERRA NEVADAS??!?! Look at a fricking map. Sheesh.

          The problem isn’t the Central Valley stealing Sierra Nevada water. That’s a profoundly stupid idea. The problem is that a huge amounth of Sierra Nevada water gets shipped off to Los Angeles.

  4. “recently declared drought in southern California”

    Uh, one of many reasons I left LA in the early eighties was the drought. That place is and always has been a desert. They have green ground only where they have been irrigating with stolen/imported water for decades.
    This alleged temporary shortage is the natural state of things. It is also an allegory for their entire socialist form of government (the other reason I left). They are running out of ‘other peoples water’, just like they will run out of ‘rich people’ to steal money from. And the really sad part is that they are truly surprised by the inevitable outcome.

    So secede already, and take Hawaii with you. Then you will have to negotiate openly for the water you now steal.

    1. Taxifornia could have built desalinization plants along its coast during the last 30 years too.

      It chose to spend that money to fuck up that state.

    2. No, LA is not and never was a desert. It was green when the first Spanish explorers visited. It certainly is a smog trap, being surrounded by hills. It certainly needs outside water to sustain as many people as it has. But it is not a desert.

      1. San Bernadino is a desert.

        Call it the greater LA area then.

        The area near the Pacific is not a desert.

        1. The Los Angeles Basis is not a desert. San Bernadino is. But most people don’t confuse San Bernadino with Los Angeles any more than they confuse Sacramento with Tracy. Roughly the same distance.

          1. You’re right. LA is not a desert. A desert is commonly associated with 10 inches or less of rain each year. LA gets 15 inches.

            Los Angeles is almost a desert. Without imported water, much of the green that you see in current LA would not be there.

            Sacramento has the Sacramento River running right through it.

      2. Wasn’t there a river there that…isn’t really there anymore? California has spent over a century screwing with their rivers, so using the Spanish exploration era as ‘proof’ seems…odd.

        1. Tulare Lake covered the southern part of the Central Valley between Fresno and Bakersfield until dams were used to create modern California.

      3. No, LA is not and never was a desert. It was green when the first Spanish explorers visited.

        The time frame of the first Spanish explorers coincided with what is now termed the “little ice age”, a time of much cooler and wetter weather across the northern hemisphere.

      4. No, LA is not and never was a desert. It was green when the first Spanish explorers visited.

        The time frame of the first Spanish explorers coincided with what is now termed the “little ice age”, a time of much cooler and wetter weather across the northern hemisphere.

        1. Fucking squirrels!!!!

  5. Solution: stay the fuck away from California.

    1. More like WARNING: stay the fuck away from California.

  6. Just another example of bureaucrats trying to preserve their jobs by declaring market failure and trotting out their central planning emulation as superior, thus creating more market failure.

    When I first realized that central planning was just a poor emulation of market pricing, it astonished me for a while, but once you start noticing it, you can never unsee it. Almost everything government does is a market-emulation failure, and the simplest fix is to simply get the government out of the way. I don’t say it’s a universal fix, but only because it’s hard to prove a negative.

  7. NY Time article “In California, a Wet Era May Be Ending” indicates that the last 150 years (i.e., since about California statehood) has been unusually wet, and that current conditions are essentially a reversion to the norm:

    “Equally as important but much easier to forget is that we consider the last 150 years or so to be normal,” he added. “But you don’t have to go back very far at all to find much drier decades, and much drier centuries.”

    That raises the possibility that California has built its water infrastructure ? indeed, its entire modern society ? during a wet period.

    But scientists say that in the more ancient past, California and the Southwest occasionally had even worse droughts ? so-called megadroughts ? that lasted decades. At least in parts of California, in two cases in the last 1,200 years, these dry spells lingered for up to two centuries.

    The new normal, scientists say, may in fact be an old one.

    1. Has anyone heard of Tulare Lake?

      It was the largest lake west of the Mississippi and went from just north of Fresno to the Tehachapi Mountains south of Bakerfield. This was around the time of the Civil War.

      The US Navy used the smaller lake and wetlands to land seaplanes in WWII.

      1. Later than the Civil War. At last as the turn of the century. During an unusually wet year, the lake returns. Or it uses to before California build all of its flood control dams. There are actually more flood control dams in the state than there are power and water storage dams.

    2. That raises the possibility that California has built its water infrastructure ? indeed, its entire modern society ? during a wet period.

      This may be true for a lot more of the country than just California. During the days of the pioneers, settlement of much of the west and Great Plains was thought to be too difficult because the entire area was just too dry. But as settlers pushed West, the skies opened up, and the West became more fertile and habitable. The settlers wrote about how this must truly be Providence and that it was evidence of their Manifest Destiny.

      If that wet period comes to an end, a lot of the US is going to suffer.

      1. We always have manifest destiny into Canada.

        You hear that Rufus?

        M….a….n…i…f…e…s…t. D…e…s…t…i…n..y….

      2. Climate changes. The problem is that mankind has way too short of a lifespan to really comprehend the magnitude of that fact.

        1. It does. Always has. The best humans can do is to observe the trends, learn from the lessons of previous generations, and prepare for bad times so that if/when they come they don’t wreak complete havoc. Like in the case of California, where the population has been exploding for a century, but they haven’t been allowing more reservoirs to account for it. Even if it were a wet period for the next 100 years, they would be facing issues in the very near future just due to lack of planning and intentional sabotage by the eco-nuts.

          We’re going to be facing similar issues where I live, and between the Feds and local eco-nuts I don’t know how we’re going to address it. What I do know is this: When humans have to choose between mass death and damaging “the environment” they tend to choose taking care themselves. Which will mean trampling the environment in a hurry, rather than making slower changes and trying to limit the overall impact which can be achieved through planning and acting in advance.

    3. I learned a long time ago, maybe even in a government school, that tree rings showed California had just entered a wet phase when the first white men arrived. Of course they didn’t know that then, and if the red and brown occupants told them, it’s doubtful they listened.

      White privilege strikes again!

  8. Just install some fucking water meters! Problem solved!

    Okay, a lot of California communites do have water meters, and a tiny handful of them do charge for water by usage. But California water woes rest on two causes. At the agricutlural level, California’s largest water users, it’s due to legal water rights, hammered into parchment more than a century ago. At the local showering and car washing level, there’s also the tragedy of the commons causes by the stupid idea that water should be both free and unlimited.

    Water meters can solve the latter. Just charge for water usage. Hell, don’t even need to be draconian about it, just keep charging the same for average water use. People turn their lights off for a reason, electricity costs money. But for one low monthly utility fee most Californians get unlimited water. Hell, most Californians never even see a water utility bill.

    Every drought the Fresno City council ponders the idea of water meters, and every drought Fresnans rise up in arms to prevent it. And so the city has to send cops out to write tickets instead. Absolutely crazy. And Fresno is hardly alone. The number of cities that actually charge for water usage can be counted on one hand.

    It’s politically impossible to get rid of agricultural water rights, but a state that has the power to ban car washes is a state that has the power to implement a far more sensible water meter mandate.

  9. Lovely. And I just found out I need a new washing machine, just in time for the 2018 regs to kick in. They’re all claiming the same cleaning power but all the reviews beg to differ, and you really have to dig to find this but the cycle times are all 90+ minutes now, I’m used to 40 (common for us to have 3-4 loads backed up).
    CR, Wirecutter all go on & on about efficiency and say nothing about convenience.

    1. You’re fucked. The new washing machines don’t get clothes as clean and they stink because the grey water is not fully flushed each use.

    2. Buy one used that was made in the 70’s or 80’s. They’re not hard to find, and I’m sure you can find a shop to do any work to bring it up to speed. The same goes for toilets, they’re out there and well worth the search.

  10. I’ve never understood all of the fuss about “wasting” water. It’s certainly not like we’re burning it up, never to return, like oil. (Have you ever tried to burn water? Let me know how that works out.) Once it’s spilled onto the driveway, does it just vanish into thin air? Trick question…yes, it does, to become clouds, which become…wait for it…rain. (Although maybe not rain where you want it or need it.) At worst, it’s running off and eventually working its way back into the water table.

    What they really mean is “I know what’s best for you, so I’m going to tell you how to use a limited resource the way I want you to use it, rather than letting you decide for yourself by paying a higher (or lower) water bill.” If water’s really that scarce, jack up the price.

    I never understood the logic behind “saving” water in a place that’s flush with it, no pun intended. Turning off the faucet while you brush your teeth in the Great Lakes region may save a few pennies on your water bill, but it sure as hell won’t make it rain in California.

  11. Make it $100,000

  12. Reason,

    Are you lying by omission or did I not read the proposal you linked correctly (specific to washing of cars)?

    You state, “…including bans on washing your vehicle with a garden hose…” And, of course, your headline “California Wants to Fine you $500 for Washing Your Car with a Garden Hose”

    Proposal states, “Washing automobiles with hoses not equipped with a shut-off nozzle…The use of a hose that dispenses water to wash a motor vehicle, except where the hose is fitted with a shut-off nozzle or device attached to it that causes it to cease dispensing water immediately when not in use”

    So it isn’t washing cars that will get you fined, but the washing of your car without using a nozzle that shuts off when you are manually holding the garden hose via the nozzle.

    $5.52 at Amazon and your lie by omission is solved. I guess cost isn’t even a barrier to entry on this solution.

    Go to amazon and paste this into your product search:

    Gilmour Medium Duty Metal Full Sized Rear Control Cleaning Nozzle (573TF)

    problem solved. $500 fine avoided.

    1. The requirement that you can only use a hose with a shut-off nozzle is not new. We have lived with that one for several years now.

      1. thanks for that but it doesn’t address Reason’s mislead, or lie by omission.

  13. “Despite the Board’s stated worries about waste, the proposed regulations would do little to curb water usage.”

    Once you understand the meaning of virtue signaling, you understand California in all of its shallow depth.

  14. For the past 40 years, they have prevented any new reservoirs from being built, and then think not washing your car will fix it? Didn’t they just have a big drought and learn nothing?

  15. Yet strangely that HUGE fountain that also has a pool so large it looks like a moat out in front of LA Water and Power is still spraying fresh clean water tens of feet into the sky. As it evaporates it must be replaced. It can’t be gray water because that would not be safe. I’m guessing it will become a popular place to go get water and wash your car.

    Little known fact: California uses 19% of the total electrical power used in the state to pump water, along with huge quantities of natural gas and diesel to power pumps where electricity is not available.

    1. Not to mention the huge fountains at the Music Center. Of course, they’re cool because they recycle

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