Randall Benton / rbenton@sacbee.com

Tom Gohring, center, speaks to reporters about his efforts to conserve water at his Sacramento home. City officials held the event to stress the importance of turning off lawn sprinklers during the drought.

Editorial: Saving Sacramento’s water should be everyone’s business

Published: Friday, Mar. 28, 2014 - 12:00 am

Sacramento’s drought police were out in force again Thursday, cracking down on residents watering their lawns out of turn.

Soon, the city plans to focus more on commercial users, city Utilities Director Dave Brent told The Bee’s editorial board. Good – it’s only fair that businesses, office parks and other commercial customers are held accountable as well.

It made some sense to start with homes and apartments. Residential use accounts for 70 percent of the city’s demand, and outdoor irrigation accounts for more than half of single-family water use. Outdoor water waste is relatively easy to spot, especially when neighbors are willing to snitch.

The watering rules are exactly the same for residential and commercial. Properties with addresses ending in odd numbers can turn on the sprinklers on Tuesdays and Saturdays, while those with addresses ending in even numbers can do so on Wednesdays and Sundays. All watering must be before 10 a.m. or after 7 p.m.

The penalties are also the same – a written notice for a first offense, a $50 fine for a second, $200 for a third and $1,000 for any more. To get larger businesses to cooperate, the fines may need to be increased. Councilman Steve Cohn said he’s willing to consider that.

The stepped-up enforcement, which resulted in more than 350 violation notices in the first two-day sweep last week and more than 150 Thursday morning, is only one part of the city’s effort to cut water consumption by at least 20 percent. Because early results are encouraging, Brent says it appears less likely that the city will have to go this summer to the next stage in conservation, which would require a reduction of at least 30 percent.

There is a flip side if the city makes its conservation goal. Less water use means less revenue – about $2 million in the current fiscal year and a projected $8 million in 2014-15. That loss, however, is being somewhat offset by lower chemical and energy costs and won’t endanger payments on the $248 million in bonds sold last year for a major water treatment plant upgrade, water meters and other projects, Brent says.

Brent and members of the City Council’s water ad hoc committee – Angelique Ashby, Darrell Fong and Cohn – all declared that they want Sacramento to lead the region on water conservation.

That is indeed a worthy goal. The city can’t let up even if the current drought eases, and it must make sure that all customers – residential, commercial and government – are pitching in.

Read more articles by the Editorial Board

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