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Santa Monica Pushes Back on Water Wasters

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP


Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

By Hector Gonzalez
Special to The Lookout

August 10, 2015 -- Forget those online “shaming” videos: Water wasters from here on out now face monetary fines as suppliers like Santa Monica and state regulators leave voluntary measures in the drought's dust and move on to tougher measures.

While state Water Resources Control Board officials this month singled out for possible penalties the 16 worst water wasters among California's large urban suppliers, Santa Monica officials served hundreds of violation notices and distributed thousands of water-saving devices during the past three months, said a senior analyst for the City.

Between April and June Santa Monica's two new Water Resources Specialists, hired in February, issued 392 notices of violation and one $250 administrative citation, said Kim O'Cain in the Office of Sustainability and the Environment. Data for July wasn't available yet, she said in an email.

They've also “performed 141 consultations and distributed about 4,000” shower heads, faucet aerators and other water-saving gadgets, said O'Cain.

At various times during their shifts, both specialist will be out on “patrols,” spending up to four hours looking for water waste, O'Cain said, but most of their work is concentrated on education.

“Both staff work full-time providing free water use consultations to residents and businesses, performing inspections for landscape rebates, assisting with processing landscape rebates, enforcing the water conservation ordinance, assisting customers with questions related to their water use allowances and water saving tips,” she said.

At the state level, Water Board officials were set to start issuing formal notices Monday against 71 urban suppliers that missed their mandated conservation standards by between 5 percent and 15 percent, letting them know they have to improve or face possible penalties, said Andrew DiLuccia, a spokesman for the Water Board, which regulates 411 urban suppliers.

In addition, state regulators last month announced face-to-face meetings with officials from the 16 worst wasters “to get them back on track,” Max Gomberg, the Water Board's climate and conservation manager, said at a recent news conference.

Repeatedly exceeding their state standards can put suppliers at risk of fines that could go as high as $500 a day per violation, Gomberg said.

Santa Monica won't face any such state actions after its 92,185 residential customers in June used about 76 gallons of water per person per day, which meets the “conservation standards” for California's largest urban water suppliers. (“Santa Monica Residents Beat Water Savings Goal for June,” July 31, 2015).

By doing so residents beat Santa Monica's 20 percent conservation standard by 2 percent, using 22 percent less water last month compared to the same period last year, Water Board data for June show.

Santa Monica property owners who faced City actions over local water ordinance violations got a letter advising them of the violation. For the most part, they “have opted for the free water use consultation and installed water saving fixtures indoors and are considering re-doing their landscapes to participate in the rebate program,” that provides up to $4,500 back for replacing grass lawns, said O'Cain.

“There have been many violations where there was a lot of irrigation runoff and water waste unbeknownst to the property owner,” she said, adding that most of those who received the notices have been turned in by neighbors and apartment owners.

Water Board spokesman George Kostyrko said state officials just made it easier for residents to report water waste, using a new mobile-optimized website, savewater.ca.gov, to report suspected leaks and waste anywhere in the state from their smart phones, tablets and computers.

Kostyrko said the new site “is a tool for Californians to help their communities and state save water and assist those water suppliers that may not have the resources to build their own online reporting system.”

Users can “easily report and send pictures of leaks or water waste,” select the type of water waste from a list of common problems, type in the address where the potential waste is occurring and click send to transmit an anonymous report directly to the water agency that serves their area, said Kostyrko.

“Users don’t need to know the name of the local water agency or how to contact them,” Kostyrko said. “The site does it for them,”

More than 300 water agencies throughout the state are linked into the system, with others expected to follow, said Kostyrko.

“The beauty of this system is that it sends reports directly to the water suppliers,” said Board Chair Felicia Marcus. “Since the State Water Board passed emergency water conservation regulations in July 2014, hundreds of state residents have emailed us and called asking what they can do to report suspected water waste.

“This tool is a valuable step in the right direction for water suppliers to find out about suspected leaks or over-watering in their communities,” said Marcus.


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