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Water users who fail to cut their consumption over their 2013 totals will start seeing penalties on their bill in October, which covers their August and September usage.

The ordinance, which was finalized unanimously by City Council on Tuesday night and is meant to address the current drought, is unrelated to the proposed water rate increases, which council will consider finalizing in February.

Businesses and residents will be expected to lower their consumption by 20 percent over their 2013 usage. Residents who were already doing a good job saving water in 2013 will be protected, in theory, by a threshold. Residents of single-family homes that use fewer than 16,450 gallons every two months won’t have to worry about their 2013 totals. The same is true of multi-family residents using fewer than 8,225 gallons.

Currently, 80 percent of multi-family users and 42 percent of single-family users are falling below those thresholds.

Business won’t have a threshold – they’ll be expected to hit the 20 percent reduction – in part because, given the diversity of businesses in the city, it would be too complicated to develop a reasonable threshold, Dean Kubani, manager of the Office of Sustainability and the Environment told council on Tuesday.

Still, both businesses and residents can apply for a waiver — allowing them to reduce less than 20 percent without getting hit by penalties — if they can prove they’ve done everything they can to save water, including the installation of efficient toilets and shower heads.

The proposed penalty would be $10 for every hundred cubic feet (748 gallons) of water used over the allowance per billing period. Customers who break the allowance more than seven times in a row could be required to have a flow restrictor installed and may be hit with a $10,000 civil penalty.

Councilmember Sue Himmelrich expressed concern over the idea that users who consumed more water in 2013 will have higher allowances than those who worked to save water.

“Doesn’t the way that this program is working reward people who are really wasting a lot of water?” she asked Kubani.

“We could set everything the same for everybody,” Kubani said. “I think if we tried to do that we may have 500 people here tonight to speak about it. We’re trying to achieve a 20 percent reduction in water use and by asking everybody to achieve a 20 percent reduction in water use, that’s the way we’re proposing to do it. I think there are different ways that you can do it but this seems to be pretty equitable.”

Councilmembers pointed out that a resident could have gone on vacation for two months in 2013 and therefore have allowances that would be near-impossible to achieve. Kubani said that these residents could apply for a waiver.

Many residents, particularly those of single-family homes, said that the allowances were too burdensome and that the ordinance was too much stick without enough carrot. Single-family homes use a quarter of the city’s water and half of that water is used on landscaping, city officials have said in the past.

City officials cited numerous carrots, including a free water audit — which helps residents and businesses figure out where their water is being wasted — and rebates for residents and businesses who buy drought-resistant landscaping or rain barrels.

“We’re obviously in a very serious drought and we need to do something and I know there was some discussion about perhaps postponing the implementation of what someone called the sticks versus the carrot,” said Councilmember Gleam Davis. “And the problem, of course, is that if we do that we will have months and months and months where our water usage probably won’t be reduced as much as we would like.”

Starting in April, water users will start seeing hypothetical penalties on their water bills. The actual penalties won’t start hitting until August.

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