August 14, 2014

Chowchilla eyes more water restrictions

Chowchilla leaders said they have seen some results from the effort to cut water use by hiring a part-time enforcement officer, who has helped reduce use citywide by about 7 percent. But some council members say the city needs tighter restrictions.

Watching the actions taken by governments of other towns in the Valley, city leaders here will look at further tightening restrictions on outdoor water use.

The city has seen a 7 percent dip in water consumption in the first half of the year compared with the same time last year, according to Doug Lackey, interim superintendent of public works. However, some members of the City Council say the city needs to do more.

Lackey said at least some of the decrease can be attributed to the council’s decision to hire a part-time water enforcement officer, who spends 18 hours per week following up on complaints and watching city streets for wasteful watering.

Lackey said the officer’s shifts are staggered to try to catch water-related misconduct at any hour of the day or night. The position was filled about six weeks ago.

“It’s a little early to get a real good feel of how that impacts our system,” he said. “We very definitely want to come back to the council with a very clear picture of where we stand and a recommendation, if need be, for further tightening the restrictions.”

Gov. Jerry Brown has asked all jurisdictions to reduce water use 20 percent while the state deals with the drought.

In Chowchilla, residents are allowed to water three days a week from 6 p.m. to 11 a.m. Those watering windows remain larger than what many cities in the Valley allow.

Other guidelines are in step with regional standards: Washing driveways or sidewalks with water is prohibited, as well as allowing water to run off a lawn or using a hose without a proper nozzle.

After an initial warning, repeat offenders can be fined $100 to $500. In July, the State Water Resources Control Board set the allowable fine at $500 per day after seeing evidence that previous conservation measures were not working.

Councilman Isaac Jackson said he’s afraid Chowchilla could be falling behind other cities in the region. “It seems to me, 20 percent is our goal (and) we’re not there,” he said. “So, at this next meeting, there needs to be further action taken to get to 20 percent.”

In Madera, as well as the unincorporated parts of Madera County, the rules are more stringent, including allowing two days per week for watering. The city adopted the rules in June.

Cities outside the county also have clamped down on water waste. Merced took the step to prevent wasting water in April by dropping to two days a week and shortening the window for sprinkling. In March, April and May, Merced’s water use was down an average of about 12 percent from last year, according to the city’s Public Works Department.

As of Aug. 1, Fresno cut watering days down to two per week. Citations can lead to a $45 per day fine, and the city has the option of shutting off the water after the fifth citation.

Despite efforts such as these, water usage has risen in the state. Californians as a whole have failed to conserve water during the worst drought in a generation, according to data reviewed by the State Water Resources Control Board at its meeting in Sacramento in July.

Residential and business water use in California rose 1 percent in May compared with a three-year average for the same month from 2011-13, according to a recent survey of 276 water agencies. Those agencies represent about two-thirds of all urban water users in the state.

Back in Chowchilla, the Public Works Department plans to finish a full assessment of the city’s water system and capacity in about a month.

Mayor Richard Walker said the city is working to educate residents on ways to conserve. He’ll wait to hear the assessment before making up his mind on stricter guidelines for using water, he said.

“I want to see the numbers, honestly,” he said. “But, if we don’t get close to that 20 percent at least, then it’s going to be absolutely necessary.”

The next council meeting is planned for Sept. 9.

For questions or to report the misuse of water, call the Chowchilla Public Works Department at (559) 665-8615, ext. 789.

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