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Californians May Have to Choose Between Showers and Laundry with New 55-Gallon Water Limit

Late last week California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law two bills aimed at conserving water in the drought-stricken state. Unfortunately for California residents, the draconian measures will severely curtail their ability to complete acts of daily living that people in the rest of the U.S. take for granted—things like laundry, showers, and bathing.

On the Senate side, Bill 606 requires the State Water Resources Control Board to adopt "long-term standards for the efficient use of water and would establish specified standards for per capita daily indoor residential water use" in order to comply with another state law that requires California to reduce its per capita water usage by 20 percent by the year 2020.

The board would have authority over all water suppliers, imposing onerous reporting requirements on them to ensure they're complying with the 20 percent reduction mandate, and imposing fines if they don't.

Bill 1668, which passed in the Assembly and was signed into law by Brown, goes even further, severely limiting the amount of water Californians can use:

The bill, until January 1, 2025, would establish 55 gallons per capita daily as the standard for indoor residential water use, beginning January 1, 2025, would establish the greater of 52.5 gallons per capita daily or a standard recommended by the department and the board as the standard for indoor residential water use, and beginning January 1, 2030, would establish the greater of 50 gallons per capita daily or a standard recommended by the department and the board as the standard for indoor residential water use. The bill would impose civil liability for a violation of an order or regulation issued pursuant to these provisions, as specified.

Note that this language gives the State Water Resources Control Board—appointed by the governnor—to increase the limits on residential water usage at their discretion over the next 12 years.

Urban water suppliers will monitor water usage by California residents, with the law stipulating that they "shall use satellite imagery, site visits, or other best available technology to develop an accurate estimate of landscaped areas." Note the use of the word "shall," which means they must do it.

The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that the average American uses 80-100 gallons of water per day. According to the USGS website:

  • A bath uses around 36 gallons of water
  • A 10-minute shower uses 50 gallons
  • Washing clothes takes 25-40 gallons of water, depending on the machine's efficiency
  • Toilets normally use 1.6 gallons per flush (if you're using a low-flow model)
  • Shaving, brushing your teeth, and washing your face take a gallon each

As you can see, it's not difficult to use 55 gallons of water in the course of a normal day. California residents who opt for a shower will only be left with enough water to brush their teeth and perhaps flush the toilet a couple of times before they run afoul of the new state law.