Roseville declares mandatory water cutbacks, but measures lack teeth

Roseville city officials are expected to call for water cutbacks today, but the announcement comes with little teeth.

The city will ask customers to reduce water use by 20 percent, but it will not impose a surcharge or penalty on residents who do not meet that target. Despite a lack of strict enforcement, the city is calling the reduction “mandatory.”

Roseville operates its own utility, which serves most of the city’s 127,000 residents with supplies from Folsom Lake.

Officials backtracked on a February proposal that would have used surcharges to compel reductions. Ed Kriz, the city’s environmental utilities director, said the decision was based on a variety of factors, including better than expected water allocation figures from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the operator of Folsom Dam.

“We’re going to look at customers’ conservation and the financial projections before we implement a surcharge,” he said.

Roseville leaders expect that education and outreach will translate into cutbacks. Kriz said the city lacks the resources for enforcement, but nonetheless it was time to send “a stronger message” to remind residents of the drought.

“People will respond because they understand we’re all in this together,” he said.

Roseville will impose two specific outdoor bans on residential customers: no washing cars without a nozzle or rinsing hard surfaces unless necessary for health and safety reasons. Commercial customers must reduce outdoor irrigation by 30 percent.

Those measures take effect immediately. Kriz said the city would reserve citations for repeat offenders.

The city is also asking restaurants to serve water only upon request.

“Nobody likes doing it, but we have to be practical,” Roseville Mayor Susan Rohan said of water conservation measures. “Bottom line is it takes a village.”

Roseville customers have cut back water use about 10 percent since a voluntary 20 percent reduction was declared in January, according to the city. Roseville’s announcement follows similar restrictions in other jurisdictions in the region, though in some areas, enforcement is more widespread.

In Sacramento, for instance, officials are bolstering patrols to find water violators, who face fines of up to $1,000. Utility officials are also organizing volunteer groups to keep tabs on neighbors.

Water conservationists criticized Roseville’s approach, saying that without an enforcement or penalty structure, customers were unlikely to heed the call.

“If there’s no penalty, you can’t really call it mandatory. It’s just voluntary,” said Chris Brown, a water consultant and former executive director of the California Urban Water Conservation Council.

Roseville leaders have described the water crisis as a tricky “balancing act.”

“The city is sensitive to the economic impact any rate increase will have,” city spokesman Brian Jacobson said. “We’ve just come out of a terrible recession, so there’s a concern of pushing us back.”

Officials are planning to retain 20 percent reductions through the end of the year, based on current forecasts. Kriz said a “considerable amount” of a $1 million fund that was previously allocated for drought operations will be saved because of the improving situation. For instance, the city is unlikely to spend money on reactivating its groundwater wells in the near future.

Still, that could all change. Officials are not ruling out rate hikes or increased reductions if drought conditions become more severe.

During a typical year, the capacity of Folsom Lake peaks at 975,000 acre-feet of water in June, Kriz said. Currently, the reservoir sits at 400,000 acre-feet, having more than doubled since the February rains. Roseville’s ability to draw supplies stops at 100,000 acre-feet, because of the location of the pumping station, according to Kriz.

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