Palo Alto Weekly

News - July 25, 2014

Wasting water? Here come the enforcers

With state levying $500-a-day fines for water wasters, Valley water board backs $500,000 conservation effort

by Elena Kadvany

The Santa Clara Valley Water District board of directors Tuesday night unanimously approved the hiring of up to 10 temporary water-conservation enforcers who will be charged with investigating water waste throughout the county.

The team of temporary hires, who could start enforcing water regulations in about a month, will not have the authority to cite people or issue tickets, however, water district spokesman Marty Grimes said Wednesday.

"They will be more of an educational resource to respond to complaints or reports that we get or that get referred to us of water waste," he said. "We'll go out and investigate and let people know what the rules are. If they're breaking them, we'll maybe offer referrals to services they might be eligible for, like a water-wise house call or a rebate program to replace some irrigation equipment."

The district's effort comes a week after the State Water Resources Control Board approved an emergency regulation to increase water conservation throughout the state. Starting Aug. 1, up to $500-per-day fines will be issued to people caught using drinkable water to hose off sidewalks and driveways, watering lawns or gardens to the point of causing runoff, washing cars without a hose equipped with a shutoff nozzle and using potable water in fountains.

Grimes said the creation of a water-conservation enforcement team stemmed from the district's desire to "ratchet up our efforts" to combat California's ever-worsening drought.

Santa Clara County has only cut its water use by 12 percent since last year, he said.

"Our target is 20 percent, so we have a long way to go. Obviously everything that we've done to date has not gotten us to the goal, so the board has been really interested in doing more.

"We have limited abilities to do things like mandate water restrictions, so this is one thing that we can do," he said.

Grimes said he also sees the temporary water enforcers as performing a service that resource-strapped cities and water companies — who also receive complaints or reports about water waste — cannot.

"Not only do we think we can help save water, it's also just helping empower people to do something because ... a lot of people are doing everything they can in their own water use, and they're now trying to help out by addressing the water waste that they see around them. They can't do it on their own, and water companies and cities don't have the staff to do it on their own, so we want to be a service to them to be able to follow up on these calls."

The district has never implemented a program like this before, Grimes said, estimating it will take about a month to recruit, hire and train the team of enforcers. The board voted 6 to 0 Tuesday to authorize a $500,000 budget to support the program.

The Santa Clara Valley Water District is Silicon Valley's largest water provider, supplying 15 cities and private water companies. The City of Palo Alto is supplied by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission but receives services, such as infrastructure repairs and grants for water-oriented programs, from the Santa Clara Valley Water District.

TALK ABOUT IT

What are you doing differently now to conserve water? Give your tips on Town Square, the community discussion forum on PaloAltoOnline.com.

Online Editor Elena Kadvany can be emailed at ekadvany@paweekly.com.

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