FAIRFIELD — Solano County cities are trying to figure out how to respond to new state policies that crack down on water wasters.
The state Water Resources Control Board announced the policies earlier this month to deal with the drought. All Californians are to stop washing down driveways and sidewalks, watering landscaping to the point of runoff, using a hose to wash vehicles unless the hose has a shut-off nozzle and using drinking water in a decorative water feature unless the water is recirculated.
Local agencies can ask courts to fine violators up to $500 a day. In addition, larger water agencies are required to activate their water shortage contingency plans to a level where outdoor water irrigation restrictions are mandatory. The state Water Resources Control Board could fine water agencies $10,000 a day for failure to comply, a water board press release said.
The regulations were approved July 15 and became effective Tuesday, after final approval Monday by the Office of Administrative Law.
Solano County is weathering the drought better than many other parts of the state. Fairfield’s drought measures kick in when the Lake Berryessa reservoir drops to 50 percent full. The reservoir in Napa County is 61 percent full.
Still, local communities such as Fairfield must respond to the state’s actions.
Fairfield Assistant Public Works Director for Utilities Felix Riesenberg said Fairfield has existing fines for water waste. The first offense results in a warning, the second offense in a $25 fine, the third offense in a $50 fine and fourth offense in a $100 fine.
“We don’t envision changing the fine amounts,” Riesenberg said. “That has worked. We don’t have to go up to that $500 amount.”
Riesenberg wasn’t aware of any cases where the city has issued a fine.
“We may have an instance here or there,” he said. “Usually, education is all it takes.”
City code enforcement officers handle water-waste issues, he said.
Fairfield always has an outdoor irrigation restriction in place that prohibits watering between noon and 6 p.m., Riesenberg said. That’s what Fairfield proposes to use to meet the state’s demand for outdoor watering restrictions.
But following the state requirement to the letter and activating the city’s water shortage contingency plan to the point where outdoor landscaping irrigation restrictions are imposed is problematic. The only additional outdoor watering restriction mentioned in the Fairfield plan, reserved for when Lake Berryessa is 37 percent full, calls for no outdoor irrigation.
Should the noon-to-6 p.m. restriction fail to satisfy the state, Fairfield would seek to create an intermediate step before the no-watering restriction, Riesenberg said.
Fairfield for more than 16 years has contacted residents with high water bills. It offers to have interns come out from the spring through fall to look for water-saving solutions, such as checking for leaks and adjusting the irrigation systems. The program expanded countywide in 2011.
Interns in previous years did about 16 surveys a day, Fairfield Management Analyst Andy Walker said. The number has dropped this year to about eight surveys a day.
“I think part of it is that people have been cutting back,” Walker said. “They are much more aware of what they are doing with their water.”
Gov. Jerry Brown in January asked all communities to voluntarily reduce water use by 20 percent. Fairfield in February reduced water use by 3 percent over February 2013. It reduced use by 23 percent in March, 20 percent in April, 19 percent in May and 4 percent in June, according to the city.
“You can drive around the town,” Riesenberg said. “I was just in south Cordelia this morning. I was amazed at the number of brown lawns, of zeroscape (yards). The community has been conserving. This is where it gets tough, when the state makes a one-size-fits-all.”
Suisun City’s water policies are governed by the Suisun-Solano Water Authority, a joint powers authority between the city and the Solano Irrigation District. The authority has yet to adopt any new restrictions in response to the state’s new requirements, a city press release said.
Suisun City at times receives complaints from residents that a neighbor is overwatering a lawn. Those complaints get forwarded to the city code enforcement officers. The city might hand out a warning, city Senior Accountant Elizabeth Luna said.
The Suisun-Solano Water Authority could meet and discuss declaring a drought, she said.
Benicia has been harder hit than other Solano County cities by the drought because it usually gets most of its water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, not Lake Berryessa. It has imposed mandatory outdoor watering restrictions.
Vallejo is planning to limit landscape watering to three days a week. Benicia and Vallejo have started water patrols, with city officials looking for water-wasting activities. Vacaville will start a water-waste hotline, said a press release from the Solano County Water Agency.
Go to www.Solanosaveswater.org for more information, as well as for water conservation tips.
Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/beberlingdr.