Woodland residents are steamed over proposed harsher penalties for those who violate new water conservation rules.
If Woodland’s City Council approves an amended water conservation ordinance tonight (Tuesday,) it could allow for “criminal citations,” liens or having the violation listed on the property title, according to a staff report.
However, these are purely worst case scenarios, officials say.
“The first step in enforcement listed in the proposed ordinance is a written notice to abate or an administrative citation,” clarified Water Conservation Coordinator Dawn Calciano and Environmental Resource Analyst Roberta Childers in an email. “Should the violation continue, a criminal citation is proposed as one of several additional enforcement options.
“A criminal citation might be used in extreme cases, such as water theft, illegal water system connections that threaten the safety of the system, or willful disregard of water waste restrictions during shortage conditions.”
This option is not a change to procedures now in place, according to officials. However, the option is not stated explicitly in the text of the code sections proposed for revision.
Unlike Sacramento, which will dispatch a task force of monitors to patrol city streets and enforce rules that limit outdoor watering, Woodland will use water meter data that is transmitted from all over the city to track conservation efforts — or lack thereof.
“We will use the water meters to start tracking the worst offenders — if there are worst offenders,” said Public Works Director Greg Meyer. “(After identifying them) we will start with a door hanger to start the dialogue to see why their water use is excessive and then we will offer them various options for remedying their situation. In extreme cases we have other citations we might go through.
“In the case where the offender is threatening the water system for the rest of the city or is stealing water from their neighbor and wont cease and desist, we will take additional action against them as deemed appropriate.”
Meyer likened the penalties to a speeding ticket.
“If you’re doing 35 mph in a 25 mph you get a speeding ticket,” he said. “If you are doing 105 mph in 25 mph I assume that ticket would escalate for endangering the public.”
According to Meyer, the city is already monitoring water meters and approaching those with excessive water use.
“We want to emphasize that our water conservation efforts with individual users begin with providing information about observed water waste, usually in an informational door hanger or letter,” said Calciano and Childers. “Many times, community members are unaware that water waste has occurred on their property, and our objective is to first provide information to help them recognize and correct problems.”
Examples of this may be a water line break unseen underground, rather than in plain sight. The city may also recommend installing flow-restriction or other devices and a separate landscape water meter (for commercial or institutional violators).
City staff will continue to respond to waste water calls, and assist customers if they have leaks or questions about their bills, and ways they can cut back. An upcoming outdoor water conservation workshop series is planned, as is a home water-wise landscape tour.
The proposed ordinance also defines the circumstances under which the City Council would declare various stages of water shortage and the water use restrictions associated with each.
Mandatory water restrictions would begin in stage one, a “water alert,” and users would be required to reduce water use by 10 percent.
Stage two, “water warning,” requires a mandatory 25 percent reduction. A Stage three “water crisis,” requires users to cut back by 50 percent. And a stage four “water emergency,” states that the only allowed water uses are those “essential to health and safety.”
The city is requesting a 20 percent voluntary reduction in water at present, and no mandatory measures are in place.
“It is unfair to say everyone must cut usage by a set percentage,” said Democrat Facebook reader Donna Reed. “The people who have been conserving all along are being penalized by having to reduce the additional amount. And now they may face criminal charges? The moral of this story is don’t make any attempt to conserve unless it is required or suffer the consequences. How about setting the usage by lot size and/or occupancy?”
Meyer said having a large lot does not necessarily excuse one from water conservation.
“We cannot enforce on every single person in the city,” he added. “The people that are already conserving are going to be so far below where we are looking that it is not really an issue with them.”
Many Facebook readers pointed out that the city should be cutting back on water as well.
“Does that mean the city will stop watering the streets instead of the parks?” asked Facebook reader Randy Workman. “Maybe the city (should) adjust the sprinklers in the islands on Gibson near the jail so the traffic does not get watered also or stop watering in the evening and start watering in the morning like the city recommends everyone else to do. Lead by example hypocrites!”
The city, a water utility customer, is also having its water meters monitored, Meyer said. In addition, many of the parks have been put on a centralized sprinkler control system in the last year to help staff better manage the water, previously, the sprinklers were manual.
“Everything we’re asking the citizens to do we’re asking the city to do the same,” Meyer explained. “We’re monitoring the city right along with everyone else. The city has meters just like the citizens do and we will be responsible for those situations.”
Democrat Facebook reader Rob Martino has another approach for the city — and perhaps the world — to consider: “Seventy percent of the earth is water. If we can put men into outer space, certainly we can filter ocean water. There should never be a drought.”
Follow Elizabeth Kalfsbeek at @woodlandbeat