Monday, September 8, 2008

Water Agencies Getting Serious About Conservation

With California in the grips of one of the worst droughts in state history, Water Agencies are taking a tough stance with water wasters. "Since November, Bill Stephens and his fellow water cops have issued more than 450 warnings and tickets to water wasters in Riverside County. They've targeted commercial, industrial and institutional customers in the Eastern Municipal Water District from Moreno Valley to Temecula.

This month, Stephens started to cite residents for excessively using water. After two warnings, homeowners will be fined $100 or more.

“You see a lot of waste. You just see it everywhere,” Stephens said.

He mainly writes citations when water is streaming off landscaped areas or sprinklers are spraying onto pavement.

Water cops are the way Eastern, California's fifth-largest water district, is emphasizing the statewide drought. There are few equivalent programs in San Diego County, where officials are relying almost entirely on voluntary conservation despite some calls for mandates.

One exception is the Padre Dam Municipal Water District in Santee, whose employees recently were deputized to report water misuse, including irrigating between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Violators are sent a warning, and repeat problems can result in fines of $75 or more.

“It's time to get serious,” said Mike Uhrhammer, spokesman for the Padre Dam district.

The odds are increasing that similar restrictions and enforcement measures will become the norm throughout California next year. Water levels of major Northern California reservoirs that also supply Southern California are dropping dangerously low: the Folsom, Shasta and Oroville lakes are one-third full. Last winter's snowpacks in the Sierra Nevada were meager and there wasn't much rainfall.

Next year “could be the worst drought in California history,” Lester Snow, the state's water chief, said at a recent hearing in Fresno.

Sacramento-area districts have tried several tactics. One has adopted an odd-even daily outdoor watering schedule, another shuts off deliveries to farmers and ranchers three days a week and a third adds a surcharge to the bills of customers who haven't met its conservation standard.

As of Friday, homeowners and businesses in Folsom, along the American River, are allowed to irrigate landscaping only on specified days and never between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m.

In Los Angeles, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa recently signed an ordinance that doubles fines and prohibits watering lawns between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.

“We are stating unequivocally to all residents that anyone wasting our most precious resource will pay the price,” Villaraigosa said."

Photo by Dvaires via Flickr.

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