Atwater considering water restrictions

Water pools along a curb in Atwater on Wednesday. Mondays would be a no-watering day.
Water pools along a curb in Atwater on Wednesday. Mondays would be a no-watering day. bahbeck@mercedsunstar.com

Residents may soon feel the effects of the drought as city officials consider clamping down on outside watering and increasing penalties on those who don’t comply with conservation efforts.

A change to the city’s existing ordinance would prohibit residents from watering lawns or landscaped areas between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. year-round. The original ordinance restricted watering from noon to 6 p.m. from June 15 to September 15.

The City Council also will consider banning outside watering on certain days of the week.

Homeowners with addresses ending in an even number would be allowed to water Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday; those with odd-numbered addresses would water on Sunday, Wednesday, and Friday. No outdoor watering would be allowed on Monday.

The penalties for violators would go up under the new ordinance. For the first violation, residents would be issued a written notice. Citations for the second violation would increase from $20 to $50. Citations would rise from $30 to $75 for the third violation and $50 to $100 for the fourth violation.

As part of the penalty for the fourth violation, a water meter would be installed at the property at the owner’s expense. The city’s public works, code enforcement officer and Police Department would work together to enforce the new rules, officials said.

“We’re trying to discourage people from wasting water,” said Brian Shaw, the city’s utility manager and chief water operator. “If everybody is watering on the same days, our wells have to work harder, and people don’t realize they don’t have to water every single day.”

The ordinance doesn’t address washing cars outside, but Shaw said that might be revisited at a later date.

The city will work on cutting back on its own water usage, Shaw said, by irrigating public parks and medians less often. “We’re going to cut back on parks and if we see they’re starting to get brown, then we’ll have to add more watering,” he said.

The City Council earlier this week unanimously approved the first steps of the amended water ordinance, but the changes will require a second vote.

In other business, the City Council approved the first steps of a new graffiti ordinance. The ordinance will need a final vote from council before it takes effect.

The proposed graffiti ordinance requires property owners in “high-target” areas to remove graffiti on their property within three days before the city would have the authority to enter and remove it. The city would then charge the property owner for abatement costs.

High-target areas are defined by the ordinance as a building, fence or location that is “clearly viewed upon entering the city limits.”

“Those are the high priority and we want to take care of it right away,” said Atwater Police Lt. Sam Joseph. “If they don’t take care of it, we’re going to do it. We’re not going to wait anymore.”

All other property owners will be given five days to remove graffiti. Some council members advocated making the time limit five working days, allowing property owners the weekend to take care of the problem.

According to the ordinance, the city manager may waive removal abatement costs if the owners agree to assign their victims’ rights to the city, which allows the city to seek restitution costs if the vandal is caught.

Joseph said the Police Department’s graffiti task force has solved more than 100 cases and arrested 21 vandals since it formed in July .