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City issues 735 fines for using too much water
Households use over 27,000 gallons
Pop-up sprinkler systems can be why some people use too much water especially when they are not set and forgotten, - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/Courier photo

How many residents have been cited for going over their monthly water use target established by the city of Ceres?

735 times since the citation program began in July.

In June the City Council enacted a structure of fines should a household use more water than a monthly use target established by the city of Ceres and guided by the state. The targets were based on a figure of 60 gallons per person per day.

The city expects a household of four persons to keep their water use under 7,000 gallons per month during January through March, and October through December; and no more than 27,000 gallons per month in April through September. The fine schedule is designed to keep residents under the usage levels to help the city meet the state-imposed mandate of reducing water use by 28 percent. Households who exceed the "target" by 10 percent get off with only a warning but those who exceed by 25 percent face a $25 fine; exceeding by 75 percent, a $75 fine; and exceeding by 150 percent, a $150 fine.

A total of 231 warnings were issued in July to those residents who exceeded the target by 10 percent. August saw 239 warnings while 234 warnings have been issued so far this month.

Fines of $25 were issued for those who used 25 percent more water than the city said they should have. A total of 189 fines were issued in July, 217 fines in August and 185 in September. At $25 a pop, the 591 fines generated $14,775 in revenue.

A total of 113 unwelcome citations have been issued so far for those who exceeded their monthly use target by 75 percent. At $75 apiece, 47 violations were issued in July, 44 in August and 22 in September. The fines amounted to $8,475.

The highest level of fine is the $150 citation for those who exceed the target by 150 percent. Seventeen households were cited in July, seven in August and seven in September for a total of 31 since the program was implemented.

It's typically the outdoor watering that causes a household to go over on consumption.

"They don't understand their sprinklers, they don't understand how long the sprinklers are running," said Jeremy Damas, the city Assistant Public Works Director. "And I do the same thing at home. Everybody gets complacent. You set your irrigation controller for 10 minutes for each cycle, two times a week. We're still catching a lot of people where they're watering three days a week where we shut that back down to two days a week."

Damas said the idea behind the fines is not to generate revenue but change behaviors.

"This isn't a money maker for us - it's more about getting the attention," said Damas. "What we've got to try to do is get the mindset curve to understand what their water use actually is."

The city will consider adjustments to the use targets if the home has more than four persons residing there or those who have more than 4,000 square feet of irrigated area. The state has determined that five gallons per month can keep each square foot of turf alive. Homeowners may ask for an "audit" by calling the city Public Works Department at 538-5732.

"The policy does have adjustment for family size," explained City Manager Toby Wells. He added that the city's public works will "gladly come out and do verification and make the adjustments."

The wide difference in the summer and non-summer water use target numbers is due to outdoor watering to keep landscaping alive in hot months.

Ceres is one of over 200 cities that is having to drastically cut back on water consumption because of Gov. Brown's emergency declaration in the face of the drought. Ceres has been ordered to achieve a 28 percent reduction from the water production in 2014.

Unlike larger neighbors of Modesto and Turlock, Ceres is a unique position to hold citizens accountable as to how much water is used on any particular hour or day. In 2011, the city spent over $4.3 million to install a state-of-the-art automated water metering reading system. Radio transmitted signals relay usage numbers from meters regularly during the day, enabling city staff - and the residents - to monitor use.

Only about 14 percent of all Ceres household have even signed up to use the web portal.

Those who don't use the internet can call the city to have reports hand delivered showing water use.
"They've got to understand where the water is being used is all this is."

Damas and his staff offer to go to homes and help owners figure out ways to cut back on water. The city provides water aerators and low-flow shower heads. The city is also offering rebates for installation of water efficiency clothes and dish washers as well as subsidizing turf removal.

"I'm really emphasizing education," said Damas. "Since June 1 we've started two-days-a-week watering. We've talked to a lot of residents because a lot of residents are not doing that. So right now we're spending a lot of time on Thursdays and Fridays - no water days - just talking to residents.

Those with an even-numbered address may only water grass on Tuesdays and Saturdays. Those with odd-numbered addresses may only water on Wednesdays and Sundays. Outdoor watering is not allowed between noon and 7 p.m.