By Deb Murphy
Very real water restrictions are heading toward a water purveyor near you.
Since Governor Jerry Brown’s first declaration of a drought emergency, layers of restrictions have been building up as the calendar ticks toward the June 1 start-date for monitoring by water suppliers. The conservation goal was upped to 25 percent, compared to 2013 and now lush green lawns are in the cross hairs.
Inyo County Board of Supervisors had to choose between an across-the-board 25-percent reductions or a two-day a week ornamental and turf irrigation restriction for the three communities with county-run water systems, Independence, Lone Pine and Laws. They went with the two-day resolution following a workshop presented by Public Works Director Clint Quilter.
Quilter made it clear the restriction will only apply to the three communities; other county water districts or mutual associations will have to “make up their own minds.”
The logic behind Quilter’s recommendation was flawless. Hitting the 25-percent reduction without limiting turf and ornamental irrigation would be nearly impossible. In addition, by setting the percentage goal, the county would be burdened with reporting and monitoring requirements and face painful penalties for not hitting that goal. “A two-day restriction may shield us from not meeting the 25-percent goal,” Quilter said.
Quilter recommended establishing the same schedule as Mammoth Lakes to simplify the ordinance since area broadcast media reach both Mammoth and the Owens Valley. Mammoth residents with even number addresses water on Wednesday and Saturday; odd numbers on Thursday and Sunday. Public Works will be conducting meetings and workshops in the three communities.
“With a couple of good soakings, turf should survive,” commented Supervisor Jeff Griffiths. That raised the question about time limitations on turf irrigation (vegetable gardens are exempt). “We could water for 14 hours?” Griffiths asked. According to California Rural Water Association staffer Krista Reger, the state “is expecting systems to put in time restrictions.”
If the reporting/monitoring mandates are complicated, enforcement of water conservation measures is even more so. According to County Counsel, Margaret Kemp-Williams, the California Water Code gives community service districts and mutuals “the authority to enforce in the case of droughts or shortages declared” by the district. In other cases only a state law enforcement agency, specifically California Highway Patrol and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, can enforce state law. To add to the mix, few water suppliers have individual meters, relying instead on meters at the well head.
With over 100 individual water suppliers in the county, Kemp-Williams stressed that there’s “not one size that fits all” when it comes to conservation measures, enforcement and fines.
Terrance Tye, manager of one of the water suppliers in West Bishop, was pessimistic about enforcement. “One of our (end users) told me he’d stop irrigating when the 300-foot well ran dry,” he said. Tye’s water agency outlined a series of penalties and then “we were informed we don’t have the authority to enforce” those penalties.
Dave Patterson, one of 27 end users in the water system in McLaren had a rosier view of the restrictions. “This is going to work,” he said. “People have the desire to be good citizens, to be good neighbors.”
The Supervisors opted to approve the two-day-a-week ordinance in time for the June 1 start-date, then consider warnings and fines for non-compliance at a later date.
Attitude was a big part of the discussion, specifically the “if I don’t use it Los Angeles will” attitude, though no one actually identified that “attitude.”
“Everyone over waters,” said Dave Tanksley, operator of the Big Pine Community Service District, noting the jump in billing units from 14,000 in January to 90,500 in July. Big Pine’s CSD has scheduled a public meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday, May 28 at the Town Hall to discuss the district’s water conservation plan.
Both the county and the CRWA can provide templates for county water suppliers.
Griffiths put the whole discussion in perspective. “With two-day watering, you can maintain landscaping. It’s not the end of the world.”