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Enforcement actions could be taken if drought severity grows

Posted: February 15, 2014 10:49 p.m.
Updated: February 15, 2014 10:49 p.m.

“Water cops” patrolling the streets looking for illegal water use. Fines on residents overusing water. Temporary water shutoff; flow regulators installed on homes.

These dire measures could be in Santa Clarita Valley residents’ future should the ongoing California drought worsen dramatically.

Such enforcement actions could be taken under stages 2-4 of the blueprint outlining the SCV’s response to severe drought, according to Steve Cole, general manager of Newhall County Water District and chairman of the Santa Clarita Valley Water Committee, which called for stage 1 to be enacted Feb. 4.

But up to this point, he said, “to my knowledge we have only asked the community for voluntary conservation.”

The plan adopted nearly two weeks ago is based  on Newhall County Water District’s Ordinance No. 112 — the

“Water Conservation, Shortage, Drought and Emergency Response Ordinance” issued in June 2005 in response to the prolonged drought of 1997-2004, Cole said.

Stage 1 is voluntary water conservation under the ordinance. When the Water Committee adopted the Ordinance No. 112 blueprint, however, it called water conservation “non-voluntary” but did not impose any enforcement measures.

The target water-use reduction for residents was set at 20 percent, according to the Castaic Lake Water Agency, which sells water wholesale to water retailers.

The committee, made up of representatives from Santa Clarita Valley’s water districts and regional government, does not have any enforcement power, Cole said.  

“The water committee is not empowered to impose water use standards, only (to) make recommendations to the various agencies such as Los Angeles County, city of Santa Clarita, the Newhall County Water District, Santa Clarita Water Division, Valencia Water Company, the L.A. County Water Works District 36 and the Castaic Lake Water Agency, who all sit on the committee,” he said.

“The real purpose is to have a forum to discuss water resource issues and reach collaborative solutions between multiple agencies,” he said.

Actual enforcement would be imposed by the water districts or government agencies.

 The plan’s stages represent worsening degrees of water deficiencies, Cole said. A water deficiency occurs when water demand exceeds water supply:
- between 1 and 15 percent (stage 1);
 - more than 15 and up to 25 percent (stage 2);
 - more than 25 and up to 35 percent (stage 3);
 - more than 35 percent (stage 4).

The general manager and other district-authorized representatives have the duty to enforce provisions of stages 2, 3 and 4 of the ordinance once they are adopted.

Under the Newhall County Water District ordinance blueprint, “If a violation is ongoing, the district may disconnect service until the violation is corrected.”

For a first violation, water wasters receive a verbal warning.

For a repeat violation, they get a written warning and are fined $40, which is added to the water user’s bill.

For a third violation, the fine increases to $100 and the water user could see the district install a flow-restricting device on his or her service connection.

For a fourth violation, the fine increases again to $250 and “the district may also disconnect the water user’s water service at the property where the violation occurred,” according to the ordinance.

Actual enforcement would hinge on guidelines defined for each stage of the plan. For instance, anyone caught washing a car — except at commercial facilities that recycle water — would be in violation of Stage 3.

Fines would not be issued for anyone failing to meet a “recommended” 20 percent cutback in water usage, but rather for having violated specific and identified water-wasting habits such as home car washing.

If enforcement advances to the point where scrutiny of household water use becomes a factor, consideration would be given for such variables as family size and water use history. No such action could be taken without a “council/board vetting process,” Cole said.

Cole was asked about multiple-dwelling residences, especially those without individual-unit metering.

“This is a difficult question to answer,” he said. “But for multiple-dwelling residences, I would imagine the focus would be placed on outdoor water use by the HOA.”


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