In the News

Residents tackle water rationing in Santa Cruz
Penalties for overuse start May 1 in Santa Cruz

By Stephen Baxter, Santa Cruz Sentinel, 4/17/14

If the region's drought seemed abstract, it's about to hit home for Santa Cruz residents.

As part of city leaders' response to two years of meager rain, water rationing will start May 1 and fines will be levied monthly against households that use more than their allotted amount of water. Wednesday evening, city water leaders spoke to a few dozen residents at a workshop at the Louden Nelson Community Center about how to read home water meters and understand water bills.

The idea is to have customers track their water use and cut their water use, especially outdoors.

"We're trying to supply enough water for human health and safety needs with indoor use, for instance, while keeping enough in reserve if we have another dry year," said Toby Goddard, administrative services manager for the Santa Cruz Water Department.

Starting in May, each single-family home in the Santa Cruz Water Department service area will get 10 "CCF" units — or 1,000 cubic feet of water — per month for all cooking, cleaning, bathing, laundry and landscaping. The allotment is designed for a family of four.

If a household uses more water than that, the ratepayer will be fined $25 for the first unit greater than the allotment and $50 for each additional unit.

For apartment complexes with two to four units, each household gets seven water units before fines are levied against the water customer. Apartments with five to 20 units get six water units before they are fined.

Goddard said that water bills in April will include allotment amounts for multi-unit properties.

The fines come from a Feb. 25 Santa Cruz City Council decision to cut the city's water use by 25 percent and prepare for a potential continuation of the drought. The council declared a Stage 3 water shortage emergency, which triggered the fines.

Wednesday, water department leaders said that less than half of the roughly 20,000 homes in its service area have been using enough water to be fined. Those households will receive a letter in the next few weeks that warns them of the fines, said Goddard.

Santa Cruz city water official Toby Goddard deciphers a water bill for new city residents Margo and Doug Lynn who moved to Santa Cruz from Hawaii where

Luckily, many residents can trim their water use by making some hardware fixes and some changes in routine.

"I'm trying very hard already," said Lynn Curtin, a 57-year-old who attended Wednesday's workshop.

Curtin said she lives in an aging house on the Upper Westside, and she wanted to understand how to read her water meter to track her conservation efforts.

"Every little bit helps," she said.

Water leaders said water meters are similar to car odometers, with numbers that spin up as water is used. Residents can look on their bill to find the most recent meter reading. It's the four-digit number under the "current" heading below the water consumption graph on the bill.

Then, residents can compare that number to the four left digits on the meter and see how much has been used. Water leaders recommend that customers read their meter and write down the number weekly to track their progress.

To cut down on water use, leaks should be fixed on all plumbing fixtures, and showerheads and sinks should have aerators to limit water flow, water leaders said. Leaks can be checked by turning off all water in a home, then checking the meter to see if it's still running.

Showers should be limited to five minutes or less, and dishwashers and washing machines should only be run with full loads, water officials said. Landscaping sprinkler systems should be turned off.

Aerators are free at the Santa Cruz Water Department at 212 Locust St., Suite B, in Santa Cruz. There are also city rebates to replace old toilets, washing machines and lawns.

Eileen Cross, a spokeswoman for the water department, said gardening enthusiasts have tried to do their part, picking up 2,200 rain barrels that the department distributed this year. Gardeners might have to get creative this summer, perhaps by installing drip systems or planting more drought-tolerant landscaping.

"Where it's going to be a challenge is outdoor use," Cross said.

Water department leaders plan to meet with more residents this month at apartment complexes, farmers markets and other locations. The water department has some customers outside the city in areas of Live Oak, Capitola and the North Coast.

Another public meeting on water conservation will be held 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Monday at Live Oak Grange at 1900 17th Ave. in Live Oak.

© 2008-2013 scwd2 Desalination Program, All rights reserved.