In the News

First month of rationing helps Santa Cruz meet goal
Daily production nearly meets target, reservoir in good shape

By J.M. Brown, Santa Cruz Sentinel, 6/5/14

SANTA CRUZ — Santa Cruz customers appear to have risen to the Water Department's challenge during the first month of water rationing, the city reported Wednesday.

The average daily production of 8.3 million gallons came in a bit higher than a goal of 8.2 million gallons set for May. Typical daily production in May is 9 million to 10 million gallons.

"The Santa Cruz community is doing an admirable job at conserving water," Water Director Rosemary Menard said. "We need to keep up the good work as the warmest, driest months are still ahead."

Santa Cruz is one of only five municipal water providers in California under mandatory rationing for residential customers as a result of the statewide drought triggered by near record-low rainfall. If households exceed water budgets — set at nearly 7,500 gallons per month for a single-family home with four occupants — they face fees of $25 to $50 for each extra unit of water. Each unit is 748 gallons.

Officials have urged sharply cutting back on landscape and garden irrigation so use inside the home isn't deeply impacted. However, the department also has done much to encourage shorter showers, graywater systems and high-efficiency retrofits for clothes washers and toilets.

It won't be known until bills are sent June 12 how many exceeded the allotments and by how much. The corresponding total for overuse penalties eventually will go down as the department faces appeals and offers conservation training in exchange for a one-time forgiveness of penalties.

Meeting May's overall conservation goal allowed the city not to draw on Loch Lomond Reservoir for customers, though there was some release to support fish habitat downstream in the San Lorenzo River, the largest source of drinking water for 94,000 customers. The river continues to flow at record lows due to low runoff, and although the lake level remains at the targeted two-thirds capacity, both sources could suffer further losses in coming months.

Vice Mayor Don Lane said he was not surprised customers stepped up. In addition to water consciousness — Santa Cruzans are among the lowest water users in the state — he said the Water Department "has really pulled out all the stops" to inform and warn customers.

"My guess is the community would have done well, but not as well (without the rationing,)" Lane said. "We're just not in a position to do anything less than what we're doing."

Meanwhile, residents are not allowed to irrigate from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., wash exterior surfaces of buildings or permit runoff into the street. Restaurants are not supposed to serve water except upon request and hotels should give customers the option of forgoing daily linen service.

The city recorded 85 cases of water-waste warnings in May, a quarter of which have been corrected, the Water Department reported. The first offense nets a warning while future offenses can result in fines as high as $500.

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