Tuesday, October 13 , 2015, 10:07 pm | A Few Clouds 73º

Goleta Water District Won’t Consider Water Use Restrictions Until September

State board calls on agencies to enforce fines for water-wasters and approves restrictions on outdoor water use

Goleta Water District officials say they won’t consider any water-use restructions until at least September, instead relying on voluntary conservation.
Goleta Water District officials say they won’t consider any water-use restructions until at least September, instead relying on voluntary conservation.  (Mike Eliason / Noozhawk photo)

By Giana Magnoli, Noozhawk News Editor | @magnoli |

Goleta water officials say they won't consider any water-use restrictions until September, despite a statewide order issued Tuesday.

The Goleta Water District is relying on voluntary conservation and hasn’t imposed water-use restrictions, drought water rates or rebate programs to encourage conservation for customers.

In response to unsatisfactory conservation rates statewide, the State Water Resources Control Board approved restrictions on outdoor water use and fines for water-wasters.

The board also ruled that large water suppliers have to activate their water-shortage contingency plans to a level that includes restrictions on outdoor irrigation – which is a Stage II drought declaration for most local agency plans.

Even with this state board decision, the Goleta district doesn’t plan to change any policies until September, Assistant General Manager David Matson said Wednesday.

Goleta has a robust water portfolio, which includes more groundwater reserves than its neighboring districts, he noted.

That puts Goleta on a “different timetable” than other jurisdictions in Santa Barbara County — some of which have implemented restrictions and even water rationing — in terms of drought response, according to him.

“It’s not that we’re behind, but we’re taking action as the board-adopted plan requires us to take action,” Matson said.

The district’s board has adopted a drought water-shortage contingency plan, but won’t consider Stage II drought declaration — which includes the state water-use restrictions — until September.

That decision is based on current supply and demand, Matson said.

The district also will introduce some rebate programs at that time.

Customer use was 90 percent higher in January 2014 than it was the year before, General Manager John McInnes said in February — a month before the district declared a water shortage.

Demand has been growing, with sales increasing 68 percent between March and May, according to data released in a California Public Records Act request.

The pattern is shifting to more conservation now, with an 8-percent cut in use overall since March, according to Matson.

He believes water agencies have until Aug. 1 to get a plan in place, and the district already adopted such a plan. It won’t implement the water restrictions, with a Stage II drought declaration, by that time.

“We believe that is consistent with the state board’s decision,” he said.

The state Water Resources Control Board is encouraging water agencies to enforce the limitations and fine water-wasters, approving a list of statewide restrictions on outdoor water use.

Water use surveys show that Californians have actually used 1 percent more water since Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency in January, when he asked for a 20-percent cut in usage.

If the new state regulations are formally approved by the Office of Administrative Law, Californians will be prohibited from washing down driveways and sidewalks, watering outdoor landscapes in a way that causes excess runoff, using a hose without a shut-off nozzle to wash a vehicle, and using potable water in a fountain or decorative water feature unless the water is recirculated.

The board authorized local agencies to fine violators up to $500 per day.

“These regulations are meant to spark awareness of the seriousness of the situation, and could be expanded if the drought wears on and people do not act,” state board chairwoman Felicia Marcus said in a statement.

In addition to the possible fines for water users, the state water board can pursue enforcement and fines of $10,000 per day against water agencies that don’t comply with the new regulations.

Limiting outdoor water use has been the focus of most conservation efforts in Santa Barbara County, with some districts enacting ordinances that echo the restrictions approved by the state board.

The city of Santa Barbara and the Montecito Water District have implemented water-use restrictions and have enforcement methods in place.

These new regulations aren’t expected to affect Montecito because it already has implemented rationing, General Manager Tom Mosby said.

Customers are using less water, overall, than they are being allocated under the rationing ordinance, according to the district.

“Montecito came out earlier than most agencies and took the unpleasant, unwelcome, but necessary actions to address our particular dependence on surface-water supplies, recognizing the impact of 3½ years of well-below-average rainfall,” Mosby said.

People who exceed their water allocations are fined, and can even have flow-restrictors installed by the district or service terminated altogether if they keep violating the rationing ordinance.

“Other agencies will fall in line over time but the lesson is that properly messaged, and even with grumblings from customers, the community generally understands the situation and will do what it needs to do to preserve water supplies during these very difficult times,” Mosby said.

Another regulation in the state board’s decision is to require monthly reporting of water use by agencies, with total production and estimates on a per-capita basis. Those rates are much higher in Montecito, with about 80 percent of water going to irrigate large estates, than the other South Coast water districts.

Santa Barbara has implemented tiered drought water rates and restrictions on outdoor water use.

Police are working with the Public Works Department to increase enforcement for water theft, which includes getting water without a city-issued water meter.

The city wants the public to report any instances of people illegally connecting to a fire hydrant, back-flow device or tapping into a city water main.

It’s also illegal to connect through another account holder’s service line, receive water through an unmetered water line, or use water though an inactive account.

Noozhawk news editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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