CITY HALL — Residents, businesses, and even City Hall will have to cut back on water usage this fall.
City Council voted unanimously on Tuesday night to declare a Stage 2 Water Supply Shortage, requiring mandatory water conservation throughout the city starting as early as October.
California is in the midst of a serious drought and 2013 was one of the state’s driest on record.
Back In January, City Hall requested a 20 percent reduction but water usage has since gone up 3 percent.
Council is making conservation mandatory through penalties to high volume users.
Residents of single family homes, which use about a quarter of the city’s water, and multi-family homes, which use about 42 percent, will be allotted 68 gallons per person per day plus an additional allowance that fluctuates depending on the time of year.
Non-residential users, including businesses and City Hall, which drain about a third of the city’s water, will be required to reduce usage by 10 percent over their 2013 totals.
Certain organizations, like hospitals, are exempt, and landscape-only water accounts will be required to cut usage by 20 percent.
Penalties begin at $4 for every hundred cubic feet of water a customer goes over their limit. One hundred cubic feet is equivalent to about 750 gallons.
Penalty rates rise incrementally so that if a customer violates their limit by more than 1,700 cubic feet, they’ll have to pay $40 for each hundred cubic feet.
In recent months, usage among multi-family customers has dropped while commercial and single-family usage has gone up. This is largely due to increased lawn-watering among single family residents and non-residential users, according to City Hall.
City officials need time organize the implementation and enforcement of the water usage caps, so they likely won’t be going into effect until October.
The caps aim to produce a 20 percent reduction in water usage for the city as whole.
“Perhaps the useful analogy is that say we have to cap gasoline consumption, and say I was already driving a plug-in hybrid, these new conditions we’re going to be putting on in the fall would not impact me dramatically,” said Councilmember Ted Winterer. “But if I was driving Suburban, I’d probably have to think about driving less or paying the surcharge.”
City Manager Rod Gould noted that while these changes come as a result of the current drought, they are likely going to be necessary in the long-term. Therefore, he said, City Hall will form a water conservation unit.
“It’s our sense that water shortages are not a short-term problem in California or many of the western states,” he said. “This will be an ongoing crisis in the area of our country and we believe that we need to assist our residents and businesses in ongoing behavioral change.”
Water reduction makes sense, said Stephen Youngerman, speaking for Northeast Neighbors during the public portion of the meeting, but he questioned what he views as City Hall’s prerogative to increase density in the city, which will increase the need for water.
Former Mayor Mike Feinstein pointed out that on a state level, agricultural businesses, particularly those that produce meats and dairies, are significant users of water. He suggested that city officials look into educating the public on how their dietary choices impact water usage.
Mayor Pam O’Connor and Mayor Pro Tempore Terry O’Day were absent from the meeting but all remaining council members voted to move forward with the water caps.
“Hopefully,” said Councilmember Bob Holbrook, “by the time we get all these things in place it will start raining.”