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Local water districts enforcing drought rules with existing staff

An efficient sprinkler waters a lawn. Local water districts are using existing staff to enforce drought measures, including watering no more than three days a week.
An efficient sprinkler waters a lawn. Local water districts are using existing staff to enforce drought measures, including watering no more than three days a week.
( / OMWD)

Some water agencies across the state have added “water cops” to patrol for waste. But that’s not the case for the two districts serving Encinitas.

The San Dieguito Water District is asking existing employees to enforce mandatory water-use conservations measures. Same goes for the Olivenhain Municipal Water District.

When OMWD’s eight utility workers are fielding calls, if they happen to notice a home in violation of new drought restrictions, they hang a notice on the door. A warning letter is then sent to the house.

“What we’re basically saying is, go about your normal business, but if you see a violation, then go ahead and notify them,” said Kim Thorner, district general manager.

The employees also investigate based on residents’ reports of water waste, which can be filed at omwd.com or by calling the district at 760-753-6466.

In contrast to the approach, water agencies in Santa Cruz, Los Angeles and Sacramento have recently gained attention for hiring water cops who proactively search for violations in marked cars.

OMWD has been at a Level 2 drought status since Aug. 1. So residents are prohibited from irrigating more than three days a week or overwatering their lawns. Those who ignore a warning letter and a phone call face fines starting at $100 and escalating up to $500.

As of Aug. 26, the district’s workers had documented 36 violations since moving to Level 2. However, offenders have been quick to correct offenses; no fines have been issued.

“Our goal is to get them to correct whatever is wrong, not to fine them,” Thorner said.She added she isn’t aware of any water districts in the county that have brought on employees to enforce Level 2.

Bill O’Donnell, assistant general manager of the San Dieguito Water District, said education has proven effective to deter water-wasters.

The last time the district was at Level 2, which was July 2009 to April 2011, the district sent out 19 warning letters after a first violation. Of those, two customers were fined $100 each for a second violation. One customer was fined $800 as a result of four violations.

When OMWD was previously at Level 2, customers corrected violation notices, and so it didn’t have to issue fines.

Thorner said OMWD hasn’t ruled out employees just for enforcement. However, that’s only a possibility if the drought worsens and its wholesaler requires significant cutbacks in water use.

In such a scenario, the district would face fines if its water demand didn’t fall below a set target.

The State Water Resources Control Board recently required that local districts adopt mandatory conservation measures. But the voting body didn’t identify how much local districts’ consumption should decline.

O’Donnell said although it’s not in the cards right now, a move to Level 3 would lead the district to consider water cops. Level 3 entails tougher regulations, like limiting irrigation to one day a week in the summer.

“At Level 3, all bets are off,” O’Donnell said.

Joey Randall, management analyst with OMWD, said enforcing Level 2 takes little time from workers’ schedules.

“It takes as little as five minutes to stop the truck, document the occurrence, hang the door hanger and move on with their business,” Randall said.

Customers have largely been understanding of the restrictions, he said. “They realize everyone needs to roll up their sleeves and conserve. Sometimes it’s just a matter of folks reprogramming their sprinklers.”

Most OMWD violations so far are customers watering on the wrong days.

Odd-numbered houses within the district can irrigate Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday, with even-numbered homes taking the remaining days. For multifamily units, the schedule is Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

For a full list of drought restrictions or details about free water audits, visit omwd.org or sdwd.org.


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