City employees are scrambling to evaluate the impact of recent state water rationing mandates in the hopes of avoiding financial penalties but it appears the City’s fate rests in the hands of commercial and residential water customers.

Gov. Jerry Brown announced statewide water cuts last week. Under his proposal, water use will be cut by 25 percent statewide. However, individual water agencies have been given a conservation standard based on their existing efforts to save water with some communities required to cut as little as 10 percent and others by as much as 35 percent based on per-person, per-day water use in September 2014.

The state mandates require Santa Monica to reduce water usage by 20 percent but according to the state report, Santa Monica reduced water consumption by only 4 percent between 2013 and 2014. While the Governor’s decree didn’t specify if recycled water would be evaluated as part of the cuts, the reporting requirements appear to exclude recycled water from the system.

The City has already declared a Stage 2 water emergency that mandates a 20-percent reduction in water use from 2013 levels. All customers, residential and commercial will be limited to 80 percent of their 2013 usage for each two-month period. Residential customers who have already implemented water conservation efforts may be exempt from the mandated cuts if their use falls below a specified threshold but otherwise, penalties will be enforced for those that go over based on the quantity of waste. There are no exemptions for commercial customers.

If water users meet those goals, the city should meet the state mandates. However if Santa Monica is unable to bring down it’s total usage, the City will face financial penalties and according to figures provided by City Hall, there’s a limit to how much water the City can save on its own.

The City of Santa Monica uses less than 5 percent of the total water consumed in its borders so staff hopes customers are hearing their pleas for conservation.

Santa Monica consumed a total of 5.7M HCF’s (HCF is a standard unit of measure for water and stands for Hundred Cubic Feet or about 748 gallons) in 2013. The City of Santa Monica used about 3.9 percent of that or 221,989 HCF (166,047,772 gallons).

City usage increased slightly in 2014 to 238,258 HCF (178,216 gallons) attributable to several new municipal projects including Tongva Park, Ken Genser Square and the new Pico Branch Library. That equates to 4.2 percent of the total usage for the year.

The city’s use is a large percentage for a single user, but small compared to the overall total.

According to City figures, the top 300 water customers, or about 1.7 percent of the total customer base, use 18 percent of the available supply. The City employees more than 2,500 people and is responsible for maintaining public space throughout the city including 132.6 acres of parkland. As of its most recent count, the City of Santa Monica operates 201 meters for outdoor uses and 114 meters for indoor use. The city adds a handful of meters each year as it expands public space, or renovates existing facilities.

Debbie Lee, Communications & Public Affairs Officer for the city, said the City has been gearing up to implement water conservation programs, including alterations to the way the city handles irrigation, cleaning and enforcement. While some measures are already in place, she said additional information will be released in the coming days once staff fully comprehend the state’s mandates.

Dean Kubani, Manager of the City’s Office of Sustainability and the Environment said his staff is working with other departments to evaluate necessary steps.

“We’re responsible for the drought response,” he said. “We’re taking the lead on all of that and there was a meeting yesterday with the Governor’s office by phone clarifying what exactly the governor said and how it was going to impact us. We’re still figuring out what it’s going to take.”

Kubani said Santa Monica had already planned for a 20-percent reduction in use, which matches the state goal; however, the timelines differ. Santa Monica had planned to hit its goal by Dec. 31, 2016, but the state will measure success or failure in February of 2016.

“The one variable in the calculations is if everything that we’re doing right now is sufficient to be able to get us to 20 percent by February. We’re not sure that we can answer the question now,” he said.

Kubani said his department is refining local programs based on updates from the state but said it will be several months before the City knows if its efforts are enough.

“Once water allocations and penalties go into effect in the summer and we see how people respond we’ll know if were going to get there,” he said.

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