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California City Orders Restaurants To Use Disposable Plates, Cups

The city of Fort Bragg, Calif., has ordered restaurants to drastically reduce the amount of dishwashing by serving customers with disposable plates, cups and flatware.

Paper or plastic? If you're at a restaurant in the coastal city of Fort Bragg, Calif., that's what your food is likely to be served on these days.

The drought-stricken city, located about 170 miles north of San Francisco, recently declared a "stage 3" water emergency, which makes it mandatory for businesses and residents to reduce water usage.

In doing so, Fort Bragg ordered restaurants to use disposable plates, cups and flatware to cut the amount of dishwashing required. Also, restaurants are to serve water to customers only upon request.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports:

"The order, though, has created such an uproar in restaurants not used to setting tables with plastic spoons and forks that [City Manager Linda] Ruffing said the council may consider loosening the restrictions at its meeting next Tuesday.

" 'You might be able to cut a filet mignon with a plastic knife, but you are not going to cut a New York,' declared Jim Hurst, the co-owner of Silvers at the Wharf and Point Noyo Restaurant and Bar, which overlook the river and are often packed with tourists. 'The expense is going to be horrendous, I would expect. So that's going to be a major impact. It seems to me there are other ways to save water.' "

The Santa Rosa Press-Democrat reports that Fort Bragg had previously been in a stage 1 emergency, which makes conservation measures largely voluntary. But on Sept. 30, the city jumped straight to stage 3, the highest water emergency stage.

The newspaper has more on what spurred the City Council to act:

"The Noyo River, which provides [about 40] percent of the city's water, has become too salty to drink, a problem brought on by record-low river flows and acutely affected by the highest tide every month, said the city's public works director, Tom Varga.

" 'We're in uncharted territory,' he said. ...

"When the flows are that weak, they cannot adequately push back salty ocean water that flows into the river at high tide, Varga said. Salt readings at the water treatment plant overnight spiked, triggering an emergency meeting of the city council and its subsequent declaration of a stage 3 water emergency, he said."

The new rules apply to the town's 7,300 residents, too. According to the City of Fort Bragg's website, other stage 3 restrictions bar people from using city water to wash vehicles or water lawns. Defective or leaking equipment using the city's water must be repaired or turned off, and no washing of any paved surfaces or building exteriors is allowed.

It's not clear what the penalties are for water violators. We've reached out to Fort Bragg officials and will update this post later if we hear back.

The emergency order is intended to reduce water use by at least 30 percent compared with last year's monthly consumption rate.

You can see more of our coverage on the California drought here.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit

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