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Water agencies across California are relaxing the water use restrictions they imposed last year. But what does that mean for you?

In San Diego County, there was basically enough water despite the drought to meet the region’s demands, but people still obeyed Gov. Jerry Brown’s mandate to cut water use by 25 percent.

Now that winter snow and rain prompted the state to ease drought regulations, the biggest benefit may be to homeowners with lawns. In many places, lawns consume over half of people’s daily water use, so the state had barred people from watering their lawns more than twice a week.

Water agencies are now letting people water their lawns more often, but Californians still can’t can’t water their lawns 48 hours after it rains.

So when can you water your lawn? That varies by water agency. To look across just San Diego County, you’ll see regulations and guidance that is overlapping and contradictory. Some of the restrictions are voluntary, some are mandatory.

Here’s a small sample:

In Poway, customers are only allowed to water their lawns 10 minutes a day; only on Monday, Wednesday and Friday; and only before 8 a.m. and after 8 p.m.

In the city of San Diego, customers are urged to only water their lawns only three days a week, but that’s just a recommendation – really, people can water their lawns every day, if they want. However, there is a mandate that any watering take place before 10 a.m. or after 6 p.m.

 In National City, Bonita and parts of Chula Vista, customers are encouraged to water their lawns only three days a week and only before 9 a.m. and after 6 p.m.

(A website with links to most major water agencies in the county can be found here: Most agencies have updates about drought restrictions on their home page.)

It seems unlikely that violators will get fined, even if they do something wrong, though.

From June 2014 to December 2015, water agencies in San Diego County received nearly 18,000 complaints about people misusing water, according to figures from the State Water Resources Control Board. Water agencies issued about 16,000 warnings to customers, but handed out only about 416 actual penalties.

There were also holes punched in the statewide regulations for hundreds of San Diegans who claimed an agricultural exemption. These customers, mostly small farmers in North County, were not required to cut their water use as much as other customers, though they also reduced their water use.

Some restrictions remain in place across the state: People can’t water their lawns so much that water runs into the street.  Restaurants still can’t serve customers water unless customers first ask for it. Homeowners associates are still prohibited from taking action against homeowners who stop watering their lawns during the drought.

Some local agencies have eased restrictions, meanwhile, while the state has not. In Encinitas, for instance, showers at city beaches are back on after being turned off last year to save water. But showers at state beaches are not turned back on.

During a recent board meeting of the San Dieguito Water District, which serves part of Encinitas, City Councilwoman Catherine Blakespear said, “It seems like we should have water people can drink at the beach.”

The general manager of the water district, Bill O’Donnell, replied, “I think the state is reluctant to turn on their showers, I think they are being pressured by the governor to keep their showers off. All the showers at the city-run beaches are on at this time.”

In a telephone interview, he suggested someone could walk from state-run San Elijo beach to city-run Moonlight Beach to get a shower.

Ry Rivard

Ry Rivard was formerly a reporter for Voice of San Diego. He wrote about water and power.

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