Local Cities Warn Water Customers to Conserve
State Water Board approves $500 fines for violations.
By Nancy Martinez, EGP Staff Writer
Montebello resident Leticia Gonzalez says she is doing her part to conserve water both inside and outside her home during California’s severe drought conditions.
She makes it a point to not leave the water running when doing dishes or brushing her teeth, and even replaced her showerheads, sprinkler system and washer for more-efficient, water-saving models. But not everyone in Gonzalez’s neighborhood is as conscientious, and that bothers her.
“It’s just frustrating when you do your part and no one else is doing theirs,” Gonzalez said about some of her neighbors.
“There’s nobody monitoring that … there needs to be more outreach to residents so they know what it means to waste water,” Gonzalez told EGP.
The State Water Resources Control Board last week approved emergency regulations that could be the answer to getting water wasters to change their ways.
Last January, Gov. Brown declared the drought a statewide emergency and called on Californians to cut water use by 20 percent, but water usage has since increased statewide. In response, the new regulations will make some previously voluntary conservation practices mandatory and bans on hosing off driveways and sidewalks and using hoses without a shut-off nozzle. Fountains that do not recirculate water are prohibited.
Outdoor watering is limited to two days per week under the rules, which give local agencies the authority to issue fines of up to $500 for violations for letting water run onto sidewalks and streets.
Water suppliers will also be required to report per capita usage to regulators.
Many cities, like Bell Gardens, Monterey Park, Montebello, Commerce and Los Angeles, along with their water agencies, have already enacted some year-round restrictions on the number of days and hours on outdoor watering.
During more severe shortages, each city can declare a Level 1, 2 or 3 water supply shortage to further restrict water use.
Felicia Marcus, chair for the State Water Board, says California is facing its worst drought in decades. Most California residents use more water outside than inside their homes, according to the water board. In some neighborhoods, more than half the water consumed goes to lawns and gardens.
“The least that urban Californians can do is not waste water on outdoor use,” said Marcus, warning that the drought could get more severe as time drags on.
“Fields are fallowed, communities are running out of water, fish and wildlife will be devastated,” she said. “It is in their self-interest to conserve more now to avoid far more harsh restrictions if the drought lasts into the future.”
On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors voted to adopt the state’s emergency regulations that take effect Aug. 1 for its facilities and water users in unincorporated areas.
Bell Gardens Public Works Director Chau Vu told EGP the question of whether the city should activate its water supply shortage plan that would restrict the number of watering days could go before the city council as early as Aug. 11. In the meantime, the city has committed to educating ratepayers about the shortage by inserting reminders to conserve in customers’ utility bills.
Monterey Park Public Works Director Ron Bow told EGP the city has been successful in the past getting residents to voluntarily cut their water use, and they plan to step up outreach to get more people to conserve.
The hardest part for cities is going to be fining water violators, Bow said.
Water rates are going up in Monterey Park and longtime resident Mercedes Bermudez says she is already being more cautious about how much water she uses.
“This is the perfect time, with the water rate increase, to educate the public on conservation,” Bow said.
Enforcing regulations could be tougher in some cities where there have been staffing cuts. And while Bell Gardens employees do go around looking for water wasters, Vu makes it clear there are no “water police” in the city. She said the city relies on residents to report violators: “We have eyes everywhere,” she said.
Rafael Cardenas says he has personally called Bell Gardens public works department to report water runoff at city parks.
People are accustomed to just turning on their tap and water coming out, so getting them to start conserving is no easy task.
“People need to hear about the [importance of] conservation repeatedly,” said Montebello resident Maria Fuentes. “People won’t know they are breaking the law if they are not told anything,” she said.
Monterey Park also relies on residents calling in to report their neighbors’ water use violations.
Eileen Xie, who strictly waters her lawn at night, told EGP that her Monterey Park neighbors don’t go to the city when they see water being wasted, but instead go straight to the source of the problem. Xie said she and her neighbors call each other when they see problems like broken sprinklers.
Thirty-five year old Cynthia Gonzalez sees water conservation as a way to keep Bell Gardens city-run water utility from raising its water rates, which have not gone up in decades even though the department has been in the red for years.
For some people, it’s a question of aesthetics. Some residents fear that forcing them to cut water use will cause their yards to turn brown and will make their home look rundown.
Monterey Park resident Pilar Bermudez says water rate hikes have made her more cautious about how much water she uses, but she is nonetheless conflicted when it comes to her yard. “I always want to make sure my lawn doesn’t get brown,” she told EGP.
Bell Gardens and Monterey Park staff told EGP that their cities are also doing their part by cutting back watering at city parks. Ford Park in Bell Gardens even has artificial soccer turfs and uses recycled water on the landscape, staff said.
The Cascade waterfall located off Atlantic Boulevard in Monterey Park uses re-circulated water, but Bow told EGP many other fountains may “soon have to be shut off” if the drought worsens. Even though the constantly running Cascade water does not evaporate as quickly as sitting water, Bow tells EGP water shortages could require that the waterfall be turned off.
Bell Gardens Councilwoman Jennifer Rodriguez told EGP the city has a responsibility to make sure it “explains the value of water” to a community that might not understand the importance.
“It’s not about getting a ticket, its about helping out and conserving water,” echoes Fuentes.
Information from City News Service used in this report.
July 24, 2014 Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.