By Daniel Larios
October 30, 2014 – The Santa Monica City Council unanimously approved an ambitious plan to conserve water Tuesday night, but stopped short of adopting a 13 percent annual increase in water fees proposed by City staff.
The City’s Sustainable Water Master Plan (SWMP) provides ways to close the gap between local water demand and available supply by implementing programs that would reach the City’s goal of 100 percent water self sufficiency by the year 2020.
The Council also dedicated an additional $400,000 towards incentive and conservation programs.
“We need to move quickly and go further,” said Mayor Pro Tem Terry O’Day. “Every dollar invested today that results in lasting conservation is a dollar we’re investing in our long-term water sufficiency.”
While the Master Plan outlines a permant policy, a Water Shortage Response Plan discussed by the Council Tuesday would include restrictions to reduce water use by 20 percent during the State’s record-breaking drought.
The plan, which will go before council in January after a community scrutiny period, includes a Water Use Allowance for each water customer, residential water conservation thresholds, drought surcharges and a variance process.
Under the proposed plan, residents living in a single family home would use no more than 275 gallons of water a day, while those in multi-family dwellings would use no more than 137 gallons.
Currently, about 42 percent of single-family water customers and 80 percent of multi-family water customers use less than the proposed threshold, according to City staff. Customers whose water use is at or below these thresholds would not be required to reduce their use by 20 percent.
The plan would also levy fines against those who do not keep within the threshold placed by the mandatory water cuts. A proposed drought surcharge would be issued to those going above the limit and is calculated by multiplying the surplus amount of water used by the highest tiered water rate for that billing period.
In the case of rent-controlled units, the City’s Rent Control Board will discuss possible surcharges to tenants in multifamily units during its December board meeting.
The plan would also provide variances to water cuts for customers who have proved that all required conservation actions have been taken and can verify that additional water is necessary to prevent public safety and health emergencies or to prevent financial hardship.
Other recommendations include waiving Architectural Review Board (ARB) permit fees for landscape projects in the City’s Sustainable Landscape Rebate Program, regulating or banning groundwater pumping by private property owners and reviewing and cleaning up water-related city ordinances.
City staff also recommended new water rates in order to keep the City’s water utility financially self-sufficient, but council members and many of the 16 residents who testified were not as receptive.
“Conservation, surcharges, rate increases, these are stressful topics, so residents depend on you for judicious and transparent solutions,” said Santa Monica resident Taffy Patton.
“Unfortunately the water reports aren’t finished yet. Maybe you saw them but the public didn’t. Without those two reports, the public can’t take part in the process or even a study session. We can’t provide informed testimony.”
“We all know that water is the life blood of our natural and physiological ecosystems,” “We should not take that lightly. And yet turning on the tap has, for far too long, been something that is too easy to be complacent about.”
“I know that it seems that the water rates would be increasing a lot of people’s budgets,” said Sunset Park resident Chris Gutierrez. ”But ironically, I think it’s very easy to forget how much water we use, from leaving the water running while you’re brushing your teeth to even washing your hands.
“It’s very important that we maximize our conservation measures,” she added.
Councilmember Kevin McKeown spoke about the feelings many speakers had about businesses and developers possibly not doing their fair share in conserving water.
“We’re all in this together,” said Councilmember Kevin McKeown. “This water shortage is serious, ongoing and universal. It affects all of us in Santa Monica and the whole region. So for us to solve a problem like that, we all have to realize we’re in it together and feel that we can work together.
“The kind of program we need to adopt here is one where everybody feels a part of it and supports it because it is a universal problem needing a universal solution,” he added.
The City provides, on average, 12 million gallons of water each day to 18,000 water customers, 24 hours a day, 365 days per year. In 2013 total city-wide water use was 4.2 billion gallons (11.8 million gallons per day).
In order to reduce use by 20 percent, water customers need to save 800 million gallons a year (2.2 million gallons per day) to reach an annual total of 3.4 billion gallons.
Santa Monica officials are urging residents to help with the conservation effort through various means, including: keeping showers to five minutes or less; repairing leaks in toilets, faucets, showers and irrigation systems; replacing low-flow toilets with WaterSense toilets; replacing top-loading washing machines with Energy Star front-loading washing machines, and replacing lawns with water-smart plants, mulch and drip irrigation.
Current restrictions prohibit watering between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.; over-spraying; hosing hardscapes, such as driveways, sidewalks and patios, and washing vehicles with a hose that does not have a shut off nozzle. Irrigation runoff and runoff from washing vehicles are also prohibited.
Contact the City’s Code Compliance office at email@example.com or (310) 458-4984 to report violations.