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Water districts in the desert issue no fines through first six months of restrictions

A fourth consecutive year of drought in California now appears unavoidable after disappointing rain and snowfall during the winter season, making it more important than ever to conserve water.

Water districts threatened harsh penalties last August when mandatory water restrictions were issued by the state, but have they been following up on those threats?

It might surprise you to learn that so far, nofines have been handed out by any of the four water districts serving the Coachella Valley.

Even bigger water districts in San Diego and Los Angeles have yet to issue fines. The districts say customers have all complied so far when given notices about fixing water waste on their property.

Katie Ruark is with the Desert Water Agency, which mostly serves the city of Palm Springs. “I would say fining people is our last resort,” Ruark says. “You’d have to be, I mean you would have to be refusing to fix it. And I don’t think we’ve had anybody refusing to fix it.”

The Coachella Valley Water District is just nowseeing their first cases of non-compliance since restrictions went into effect last August.

Dave Koller is Conservation Manager at the CVWD which serves most of the Coachella Valley. “We have a couple properties who we’re giving second notices to and we’re forming a strategy on how to deal with them if they don’t comply so to speak,” Koller tell us. “Most people, once they find out they have a problem they’re certainly willing to fix it, they just don’t know.”

During the month of December the state finally met it’s 20 percent year to year savings goal set by Governor Brown, thanks mostly to hefty rainfall. However, the Desert Water Agency saved only 5 percent, while the Coachella Valley Water District saw an increasefrom it’s December water use last year. Both districts had better numbers in previous months.

“When we’re doing month to month calculations we’re seeing a lot of fluctuation here in the desert,” Ruark explains. “We’ve got months where we’re saving a ton of water and months where we’re saving very little. Averaging out we’re doing a great job, making steady progress but certainly there is more work to be done.”

Golf courses are not included in those month-to-month calculations, but the influx of tourists can make it difficult to figure out if per person saving is taking place.

Fining districts that don’t do enough to promote conservation was discussed as a possibility at the latest state water board meeting. Luckily, emergency drought funding will continue to expand conservation efforts along with turf rebate programs, which are the most helpful among other efforts in reducing water use in the desert.

“It’s absolutely on the landscape and just getting people to be more aware of not over watering,” Koller says. “There’s just a lot of over watering that’s done because they don’t know how to set their irrigation system timer so that it is putting on the right amount of water. We see a lot of systems coming on multiple times a day and this time of year they don’t even need to come on but once every 2 or 3 days.”

The Coachella Valley Water District even has a water officer dedicated to finding and fixing water waste. The valley’s first “water cop” started actively patrolling the CVWD service area in January.

“We have one person full time who works on water waste complaints,” Koller says. “So we received, or we actually did 43 calls in January and 15 of them came in through our website, 9 through phone calls, and she was out and found 19 water waste investigations on patrol.”

Recent rains have helped to mitigate the current impact of the drought in some areas of California, but the majority of the state remains in the 2 highest categories of drought, extreme and exceptional. Snow pack in the Sierra Nevada Mountains is key to drought recovery, but it remains among the lowest at this point in February since record keeping began.

“I think the most important thing to say is that even though California is down 22 percent in December, and that’s really great and we’re really encouraged by it, that’s only one month, we have to keep at it, we have to keep conservation in the front of our minds and you know, don’t slow down now,” Ruark says. “Now is when we’re being successful.”

Successful without fines, so far.

VisitCV Water Counts to learn more about how you can save.

KESQ News Team


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