Local News

Tuesday, Jul 15 2014 08:07 PM

Local water agencies weigh new state regulations

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Leaves float in about an inch of gutter water on a street within a mile of downtown Bakersfield. The water is replenished frequently enough that moss has formed.

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  2. 2 of 3

    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Water is replenished frequently enough in this gutter in a street in Bakersfield that moss has formed.

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  3. 3 of 3

    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    A significant amount of water runs into the street as sprinklers watering a lawn in a Westchester neighborhood appear to malfunction.

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BY THEO DOUGLAS Californian staff writer tdouglas@bakersfield.com

Bakersfield spray parks could close early because of the State Water Quality Control Board's crackdown on water wasters, a city official said Tuesday, but neither city nor California Water Service Co. customers should expect a $500 ticket any time soon.

"I don't have my $500 ticket-writing book in my back pocket," said Art Chianello, manager of Bakersfield's Water Resources Department. "To be perfectly honest, (enforcement) would be difficult because we don't have a water cop. We're not going to ask police officers -- they're busy enough, aren't they?"

Things will be different in the future, however, for account holders of the city's more than 100,000 metered water connections.

"I think there's different ways (water restrictions) could be done but I think we're obligated as a city to enact whatever the state wants us to enact," Chianello said.

How Bakersfield will police this remains unclear. Chianello said spray parks -- slated to be open daily through Sept. 2 -- could close about two weeks earlier than planned if the state mandates rules be implemented by Aug. 1.

Spray parks are a target, he said, because while water they use does go to recharge groundwater supplies, it isn't recirculated, or immediately reused, and now, that's a no-no.

Similarly, residents who wash down driveways or sidewalks, who wash their cars without shut-off nozzles on their hoses, or who over-water their landscaping, could come under scrutiny, but how this will happen remains unclear.

Chianello said the city could leave door-hanger fliers with its water customers, informing them of the state water board's new edict -- or it could target obvious water wasters.

"If people are at work and we're driving by and we see water in the street, or we get a report that a particular house might have a broken sprinkler, we'd be happy to reach out to them and say 'Use water wisely and let's all follow the state rules,'" Chianello said.

In an email, a Cal Water spokeswoman said the company, which serves 41,500 customers in the city of Bakersfield water system and another 69,600 on its own system -- as well as 4,200 people in the Kern River Valley -- is "currently working to achieve compliance through customer education."

Yvonne Kingman, corporate communications manager for Cal Water, said the company believes its customers are meeting statewide reduction goals approved by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger mandating urban water users reduce their consumption 20 percent by 2020.

"In Bakersfield, the 2015 ... target water use was 268 gallons per capita per day, and in 2020 it was 239 gallons per capita per day," Kingman said. "In Bakersfield, our customers are already at 245 gallons per capita per day, so we've already achieved the 2015 target and we're well on our way to the 2020 target."

A new company water conservation and rationing plan approved May 1 by the state Public Utilities Commission lists nonessential or unauthorized water uses Cal Water may focus on "if water supplies are projected to be insufficient to meet normal customer demand."

These include the four uses the state board focused on Tuesday.

The plan also includes enforcement measures Cal Water could use on water wasters if it decides they're necessary.

These include restricting the water lines of customers "observed by Cal Water personnel to be using water for any nonessential or unauthorized use ... ," and fining or terminating the service of those who still don't comply or who tamper with the restriction device.

"It's basically, what we would like to do if we have to enforce it; we give a warning and on a subsequent warning, we could install a flow restrictor on the customer's line," Kingman said.

As for levying a $500 fine, she said, "We're not talking (about) that yet."

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