Q&A: City of Sacramento watching for water run-off, watering violations

With California in a severe drought, the State Water Resources Control Board ruled last week that some cases of water waste could be treated as criminal infractions.

The city of Sacramento declared a water shortage in January and has been enforcing tough rules since then. The Sacramento Bee asked Sacramento utilities director Dave Brent how the city was dealing with the state’s latest ruling.

Will the city stop washing sidewalks and driveways, and will it enforce those actions by members of the public?

Since Jan. 14, when the City Council approved a stage 2 water shortage, we have been limiting the cleaning (with water) of city facilities to matters of public health and safety. Exceptions would be when there’s a possibility for slips and falls, such as on tennis courts, which we hose down once a month in the summer, and sidewalks at City Hall, where the bird droppings may pile up.

We expect the public to use the same amount of discretion. For example, citizens can still wash cars at home, but we expect the watering to be done on an approved watering day, and we require they use a hose with a shut-off nozzle. Approved watering days are based on the last digit of your house number: Addresses ending in an even digit can water on Wednesdays and Sundays, and water on Tuesdays and Saturdays if the house number ends in an odd digit.

How will the city patrol for landscape irrigation that causes runoff into the street and gutters? Is this part of current patrols?

We currently patrol for runoff. In cases where our drought-buster team sees the source, we can follow up with a notice of violation. Where it has been called in to 311, we will look into it in the following days to see if we can tie it to a specific address. It’s important to note that we are asking for compliance, not trying to generate revenue with violations. We are requiring that everyone follow the rules. If they don’t know the rules, the first notice of violation, which is a warning, will educate them.

Will the city issue fines up to $500 for water abuse, as is now allowed by the state regulations?

Since we declared a water shortage in January, our outdoor water conservation ordinance has included fines up to $1,000 for a fourth violation. Fortunately, we haven’t had anyone commit a fourth violation. First notices of violation are a warning with no fine, the second is $50, and the third is $200.

Do you have the latest figures on how much water use has been reduced in the city this year over last year?

We want to thank the citizens for cutting back during this severe drought, starting with 11 percent in February and each month edging closer and closer to our goal of a 20 percent reduction. In June, consumption was down by 17 percent, which translates to 744 million gallons saved – or enough to provide 4,900 homes with water for a year. The total amount saved since February is 2.2 billion gallons, enough to provide water to 14,500 homes for a year.

The last 3 percent is achievable if everyone (businesses and residents) will check their irrigation timers and sprinkler heads and reset them if necessary to reduce water use. If you use a landscaper, we’re urging businesses and residents to ask them to be sure the controllers comply with the watering rules. Getting to 20 percent is achievable if everyone does their part.

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