News

Palo Alto approves new fines for water wasters

Customers who violate water restrictions may pay $100 per day

Water wasters in Palo Alto who ignore the city's warnings to conserve could face fines of $100 per day under an enforcement strategy that the City Council adopted on Monday night.

The Council unanimously approved the penalty mechanism proposed by the Utilities Department as part of the city's response to California's prolonged drought. So far, the department has relied largely on carrots rather than sticks to encourage water savings, recently doubling rebates for customers who make their outdoor irrigation systems more efficient and sending out "home water reports" that compare customers' usage. Even with the penalties in place, the focus on educating customers rather than punishing them will continue, a staff report from the Utilities Department notes.

"Staff does not anticipate there will be many instances where a customer purposefully disregards warnings and a fine will be necessary," a Utilities Department report states.

At the same time, the new enforcement strategy gives the city a tool for fining those customers who repeatedly ignore warnings. Under the newly adopted enforcement process, a water waster would be hit with a door hanger or an educational email upon the first two violations. The third violation would lead to a certified letter from the Utilities Department citing the violation and warning of the fines ahead. After the fourth violation, the fines would kick in.

The penalties were adopted despite a recognition by staff and the Council that residents are already making some strides to cut back on water. Nico Procos, senior resource manager at the Utilities Department, said the city used 13 percent less water this year between February and June than during a comparable time last year. This is well above the 10 percent in savings that the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission has asked its customers to achieve, Procos said.

"We are very happy to report that Palo Altans are successfully conserving," Procos said.

Procos said staff has detected close to 50 violations since the Council adopted the new restrictions on Aug. 4. These include customers who violate the new prohibition on landscape irrigation between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., except for drip systems, soaker hoses and hand watering.

The Council quickly agreed to accept the staff proposal.

"It's a difficult time and it doesn't look like we're coming to the end of this any time soon," said Vice Mayor Liz Kniss, who made the motion to go along with the penalty schedule. "And I think it's very important that we do the absolute best we can in that area of conservation."

Councilman Greg Scharff called the penalty process "timely" and commended staff for doing "a good job thinking this through."

The staff proposal also includes hiring a water waste coordinator, a part-time employee who would log incidents, coordinate field reports and track incidents and the city's responses, according to a staff report. Councilwoman Karen Holman was skeptical about this new position, which will cost about $29,000, and said it would be "premature" to hire an enforcement person at this time. Utilities Director Valerie Fong assured her that the new employee would not be an enforcer but more of a coordinator.

Councilwoman Gail Price, meanwhile, said she supports having a more systematic response in place to fine violators and take action.

"If we're in a situation where on the books we say we're doing something and our enforcement is periodic or complaint based, I don't think we're as effective," Price said.

Related content:

Residents catch Palo Alto wasting water

Palo Alto adopts water-use restrictions

District to hire temporary water-conservation enforcers

Comments

5 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 16, 2014 at 7:54 am

So what's the state of play about the El Camino Park water storage? Still looks like a pile of dirt when I last looked and definitely no playing fields. Is water being stored there?


10 people like this
Posted by palo alto resident
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 16, 2014 at 8:35 am

Does the City get fined too? The fields at Jordan are often watered at 2 in the afternoon.


7 people like this
Posted by perspectives
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 16, 2014 at 9:14 am

Sprinklers were on full force at 12 noon in the Baylands entry area the other day.

Great to hear Palo Alto is doing so well comparatively conserving water. Why isn't it equally enforced though I wonder. Hard to just sit and watch my grass and yard die b/c I'm trying to do my part, but then see a lot of this other water waste. 1 step up, 2 steps back, or bailing a sinking ship out with a thimble, etc. etc.


9 people like this
Posted by Silly
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 16, 2014 at 9:53 am

The city should check out the fire hydrant at Lowell and Middlefield. It leaks at least once a week and has been doing that since I wrote the city about two years ago questioning an atrociously high water bill when we were on vacation for half the month and the house was dark and empty.

There's a permanent stain from the leakage on the Lowell side.

Maybe the city's waiting for the consultant's report or more community input?


9 people like this
Posted by edbeards
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 16, 2014 at 10:28 am

Was that intentional irony to post a photo of water pouring out of a city parking garage?


3 people like this
Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Sep 16, 2014 at 10:47 am

This is simply absurd, and shows how out of touch this Council is with reality.

Todate, has there been any real evidence of gross water wasted by Palo Alto residents, or businesses? Perhaps if there had been a long list of violators identified, who had continued to waste water after being asked to refrain from that practice--such a move might be necessary. But what evidence is there that any significant wastage has occurred?

The City's internal distribution system is likely to be a source of loss. Cracks in the pipes, and the never ending assault by tree roots looking for any source of water they can get, result in loss that is likely to be far greater than any that comes from washing down a driveway, here or there.

It's very difficult to watch a City Council posturing about punishing residents and business owners--when its own water distribution system is losing tens of millions of gallons of water every year.

It's really hard to take seriously anything this Council says.


3 people like this
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 16, 2014 at 10:49 am

I don't like this approach. Palo Alto shouldn't have different policies from other CA cities and areas. Some regions don't even have water meters. To require us to let our costly landscaping die on our residential property is ridiculous.
This is a high cost, high value property area and values will drop if it looks barren. Instead, require ALL residences with swimming pools to not refill as of now. My greenery is more valuable for the health of our climate than their personal swimming pool.
Also, if city landscaping dries out that is a big financial loss as well as an eyesore and has the domino effect of telling outsiders we don't care about our city.
Look at Las Vegas!!! Sensible reminders and encouragement to fix leaks and water reasonably are a better approach for government in these current lean water times.


Like this comment
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 16, 2014 at 10:50 am

I mean, look at all the obvious water waste in Vegas. Sheesh! And they lecture us here while we attempt to retain our small patches of green in our yards.


7 people like this
Posted by grandmakk
a resident of Meadow Park
on Sep 16, 2014 at 11:01 am

I love this ... coming down on citizens, when the city has pointedly ignored their badly leaking pipes in our water meter. When it started a few years ago, they did a temporary fix and said the pipes would need to be replaced 'soon.'

Fast forward to last week, when the pipes started leaking again. Two more workers came on separate trips to look at the broken pipes. They were sympathetic, said the pipes would need to be replaced, and left. The front yard is soggy, the meter is underwater, and the water is running in the gutters.

I've talked to and written to several City Utilities authorities, including the head of the department. Even chatted to Dennis Burns at a picnic the other day in our neighborhood. Everyone makes nice noises and the pipes keep leaking.


8 people like this
Posted by Dutch Uncle
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 16, 2014 at 11:06 am

At least twice a week, I see sprinklers running along Alma for a couple of hours or more--long enough for there to be plenty of runoff onto the sidewalk and gutter. Tsk, tsk.

Be sure to fine the city and county for excessive watering and leaky pipes.


7 people like this
Posted by Marissa
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 16, 2014 at 11:14 am

What should be done when the landlord INSISTS on watering the front and back yard or fines the renter for not adequately sprinkling the landscape and making the renters the scapegoat instead. Any laws for the renter caught between two sticks.


6 people like this
Posted by Dan
a resident of Southgate
on Sep 16, 2014 at 12:03 pm

What will the "water waste coordinator" be doing during the rainy season?


8 people like this
Posted by John
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 16, 2014 at 12:16 pm

When I get a notice, without supporting quantitative data, that I am using five times as much water as my neighbors, I simply don't believe it. Most of my automatic watering is shut off, and my plants are dryer than most of my neighbors.


6 people like this
Posted by Palo Alto Resident
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 16, 2014 at 12:17 pm

The Daily Post article said Palo Alto residents had reduced their water usage by 17%. The city of PA appears to have reduced usage by 13%. However, businesses have only reduced their usage by 7%. I hope the enforcement officer goes after businesses as well as us residents who appear to be doing a fairly decent job of water conservation.

Is there going to be a hot line to report water wasting?


2 people like this
Posted by Hyperbole
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 16, 2014 at 12:51 pm

" To require us to let our costly landscaping die on our residential property is ridiculous. "

Which is probably why this is not required.


2 people like this
Posted by Maria
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 16, 2014 at 2:12 pm

My plants still get watered by hand because I save laundry water in two large garbage cans by running a hose from the washing machine. One 1gal watering can per plant (azeleas and hydrangers)
has kept them happy and blooming so far, and there is still a bit of water left for the roses in the backyard. You can even call lugging watering cans around "exercise".


Like this comment
Posted by Silly
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 16, 2014 at 4:47 pm

Maria et al, is sugar water (for corn on the cob) or salted pasta water ok for plants and dying lawns?


4 people like this
Posted by Silly
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 16, 2014 at 4:50 pm

PS: That's the sort of tips our "water coordinator" and utility dept. should be proving instead of the incessant mailings saying "You use X times more water than your neighbors" when we've got dead back lawns, dying front lawns, filthy cars and unflushed toilets.

Waste of paper when there's nothing left to conserve.


1 person likes this
Posted by Tips
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 16, 2014 at 5:05 pm

Tips for water saving

Laundry - have one family member doing laundry for whole family rather than each member doing their own. Usually a larger load of similar items is more frugal with water than lots of small, mixed loads.

Wear clothes more than once, particularly jeans and sweatshirts.

Hang towels after use so that they will air dry and change them once a week.

Shower - Get in shower and get wet including wash cloth. Turn off water and lather your body and shampoo hair. Turn on water and rinse off. Use shampoo with conditioner rather than two separate products.

Pee in shower, save a flush. Use public bathrooms as much as possible. Shower at gym/school/shopping mall/work - still uses water but not your responsibility.


10 people like this
Posted by CT Resident
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 16, 2014 at 5:13 pm

We actually have to avoid walking through Cameron Park before noon on most days because the grass is soaking wet. Of course, if the City didn't water the grass so much, they couldn't justify having park maintenance crews there at least two times a week.


6 people like this
Posted by Midtown resident
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 16, 2014 at 6:00 pm

The most egregious waste is the water pumped from a new basement construction in my opinion. I was horrified to see an 8 inch hose's worth of water being pumped day in and day out for days on end into the storm drains. This is precious groundwater. Find a way to use this water or use it to recharge the groundwater.


4 people like this
Posted by HUTCH 7.62
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 16, 2014 at 7:01 pm

How about the city just reward people who use the least water by giving them money back. Seems like there are better uses for 25 K than hiring a new employee.


2 people like this
Posted by north palo alto resident
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 16, 2014 at 10:18 pm

The fields at Castilleja school were being watered at 3 in the afternoon today, even the sand covered bases


Like this comment
Posted by north palo alto resident
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 16, 2014 at 10:21 pm

Interesting about those fliers though because the one i got last month said that our family used 20% less than our neighbors, so they aren't all that extreme


5 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Sep 16, 2014 at 11:03 pm

But what is considered a "violation"? Is it using more water than the neighborhood 'average', (with or without respect to numbers of people in the home?) Or compared to a prior year? Or is it watering during a certain time of day? Is it water collected in the gutter in front of a house (because I came home the other day to water collected in the gutter in front of my house, and we don't water at all - it came from the neighbors over watering earlier in the morning, but because our gutter is lower than theirs, theirs looked dry in the afternoon, and the water had collected in front of our house.

So what exactly are the "violations" that they're talking about? How will they be documented? Will there be a hearing or appeal process?


1 person likes this
Posted by Perspectives
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 17, 2014 at 1:10 am

Perspectives is a registered user.

No, I will not pee in my shower to save water. If other people wish to, fine. I draw a line on my personal water-saving responsibilities.


6 people like this
Posted by boscoli
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 17, 2014 at 8:01 am

But the city is the largest waster of water. Park lawns and playing fields fields are watered through the night, etc. How can the largest waster of water fine others for the same offense, on a much smaller scale?


5 people like this
Posted by Silly
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 17, 2014 at 11:25 am

Regarding using bathrooms away from home, I used the one at the Temporary Main Library and before sitting down, I put my purse on the side of the sink instead of the floor.

The sink automatically washed my leather purse and its contents.

By the time I'd rescued my purse and sat down, the toilet sensors had already flushed twice for a total of three flushes,

Yet at home I'm supposed to refrain from flushing even once??

It would make a great video if it weren't so pathetic.


3 people like this
Posted by Cindy mason
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 17, 2014 at 11:27 am

4% water is public consumption. So even if we stopped all water usage it would only save 4%. From usgs
Website types if water use:
Aquaculture
Domestic
Industrial
Irrigation
Livestock
Mining
Public supply
Thermoelectric power


7 people like this
Posted by Anneke
a resident of Professorville
on Sep 17, 2014 at 11:41 am

Recommendation to City Council:

1. Start objectively by ensuring that all city owned property is watered correctly: no leaks, no broken sprayers, no soggy grass fields by overwatering.

2. Publish a general telephone number and/or a website, where people can record an "objective" water problem, for example, when you notice a leak in an apartment complex.

3. Encourage neighbors to talk to each other if they see a broken water valve in each other's garden. Our wonderful neighbor next door just let us know we had a broken valve, and we fixed it immediately. That is what a good neighbor is all about. It is not about spying, it is about working together.

4. The whole "water fine and water police decision" is so very negative in nature.

5. Let's start with a positive "objective" plan first, and then report the results regularly, so everyone gets encouraged to do their share.

6. City Council: Have trust in the Palo Alto citizens!


2 people like this
Posted by POST reader
a resident of Professorville
on Sep 17, 2014 at 1:40 pm

Someone wrote an intelligent suggestion in the letters to the PA Daily Post editor with respect to the differences between the fixed and variable costs of providing water to residents. Divide the fixed cost of the distribution system to residents by a reasonable number of residents . . . the number of monthly utility bills delivered to RESIDENTS (not business and not city use) and the variable cost based on actual usage (based on resident meter information).

The usage numbers must be tallied each month and entered somewhere since we get monthly bills and figuring the number of monthly bills mailed can't be difficult information to gather. With such a system, a "water cop" would be unnecessary and everyone would be billed fairly.


5 people like this
Posted by cynic
a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 17, 2014 at 7:16 pm

I vote that City Councilmembers have to save enough of their own water usage to offset all the extra development they foisted on us. Or maybe, they put a moratorium on growth and show they offset every new apartment with their own savings. Seriously, make them do that. And then ask them to think about things like resources and infrastructure before they go back to packing and packing in people here as fast as their developer friends can cash in.

(I wonder if all the new developments over here it's had anything to do with the huge drop in water pressure on our side of town since last month...)


4 people like this
Posted by boscoli
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 18, 2014 at 6:33 am

If we continue the development orgy and the sardinization of Palo Alto, any collective reduction in water use will be meaningless, just a drop in the bucket.


4 people like this
Posted by Carla Carvalho
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 18, 2014 at 9:08 am

We paid the city nearly $10,000 in building permits last year for our remodel so that they could, among other things, evaluate our lot size and home size and its ratios for rebuilding. Despite this, they send us water usage reports that grossly underestimate our lot size and home square footage (that they approved.) And now, we're going to be fined for their erroneous data?


3 people like this
Posted by Silly
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 18, 2014 at 11:20 am

Resident's comment about low driveways is very apt in my case. When it rains, our driveway routinely has a long,wide and fairly deep puddle about which I complained to the city when I had them out more than 2 years ago. When it's there, in the warm weather it's also a breeding ground for bugs.

They checked everything, the irrigation, meter, etc. and couldn't find anything wrong.

First they said they didn't know why and then they said something vague like, "Oh, the infrastructure is so old. Your driveway is just lower Don't worry about it." They offered the same "explanation" for the leaky fire hydrant at Lowell & Middlefield.

In view of the new fines, I guess I'd better print off that email exchanges along with the names of the guys who came out to check to avoid a $100 a day.


3 people like this
Posted by Silly
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 19, 2014 at 1:44 pm

I just noticed that there's a large deep puddle running from the fire hydrant at Lowell and Middlefield all the way to Middlefield, a distance of about 4 feet with width about 3 feet.

It must have been that torrential downpour we had and/or the aging infrastructure.

What number do I call to report this water waster?


Like this comment
Posted by Max Rattner
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 3, 2014 at 5:22 pm

Just a heads up for folks trying to limit their water use, my neighbor Chris and I are hoping to launch a startup that waters people's lawns and plants with recycled water. We think it can significantly reduce your water usage (and water bill!) as Palo Altans use as much water on yard maintenance as they do indoors. See more here if interested: Web Link

Max


Like this comment
Posted by It might rain
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 3, 2014 at 11:39 pm

@ Max Rattner

A guy I knew, a while back, started a little company, just like the one you want to start. The name of the company was Water Wise. He had really good accounts. Then it started to rain.

Just a word from the wise.


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 4, 2014 at 7:56 am

Looks like the Weekly doesn't want to give you free advertising here.

I love the idea of this start up - I read about it yesterday. If this is a year of "normal rainfall" it is still a great idea for summer watering.

Wishing you the best.


Like this comment
Posted by Max Rattner
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 4, 2014 at 1:51 pm

@ It might rain - Certainly a possibility, and if that happens we'd just sell the truck and move on. I for one am hoping the drought ends sooner rather than later; we need the water. But, given the reality of what we're facing, I think it's important that we, as a community, take steps to limit our water use.

@ Resident - It appears so, unfortunately. But I'm glad you got to read about it while it was live. If anyone else is interested, I also posted in the classifieds section, so if you'd like to read more about our idea you can do so here (hopefully this link won't be removed): Web Link Thank you for your interest and feel free to follow up with me directly at max.rattner@gmail.com or 650-248-4342.

Best to you both,

Max


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