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City misses state water goal
Ceres cut water consumption by 18.3 percent; not as deeply as state mandates
Water waste
Reports of water wasting including watering in the early afternoon as seen here at Vandalay Drive and Skeena Avenue in Eastgate have increased dramatically since the state has called for water consumption cutbacks. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/ Courier file photo

Even with the sweltering June temperatures, most of California's cities and water districts were able to make their target goals for water conservation for July, according to the State Water Resources Board.

Ceres, however, fell short in its reduction target of 28 percent, realizing only 18.31 percent. It wasn't the only city in Stanislaus County that failed to meet the state's mandated reduction levels.

City officials insist that Ceres has unfairly penalized because the state didn't take into consideration the years of conservation measures that resulted in 50 percent reduction between the peak years of 2008 and this year. Those measures included adding water meters in 2012. To achieve further cuts in water consumption, actions become more drastic and costly.

The state also did not take into consideration the hydrological region, said Ceres City Manager Toby Wells.

"There's a big difference between water conservation when you have average temperatures of 100 degrees versus average temperatures of 60 degrees," said Wells. "In the coastal areas it's a whole different ball game."

What the state does to cities that don't meet their goal is a huge question.

"We don't know what it means," said Toby Wells.
The state has threatened fines of $10,000 per day but officials say the goal is reduction, not fines.

Californians reduced water usage by 27.3 percent in June, exceeding Gov. Jerry Brown's April mandate of a 25 percent water use reduction for the state. In May, the SWRB adopted an emergency regulation requiring an immediate 25 percent reduction in overall potable urban water use. The regulation uses a sliding scale for setting conservation standards, so that communities that have already reduced their residential gallons per capita per day through past conservation will have lower mandates than those that have not made such gains since the last major drought. Each month, the SWRB compares every urban water supplier's water use with their use for the same month in 2013 to determine if they are on track for meeting their conservation standard.

"They look at it both month to month and accumulative for the period from June to February," said Wells. "What we think is important is the per gallons per capita per day. We're one of the lowest in our hydrologic region."

Ceres had an average use of 118 gallons per person per day in June and 114 in May. The state average is 96.98 gallons per person per day.

Despite being the hottest June on record for much of the state, the urban water suppliers exceeded the statewide conservation goal, saving 59.4 billion gallons (182,151 acre-feet), as compared to the same time in 2013. June conservation efforts put California on track to achieve the 1.2 million acre-feet savings goal by February 2016, as called for by Gov. Brown in his April 1 executive order. In the state, 265 water suppliers, serving 27.2 million people met or exceeded their conservation standard. Almost 40 percent of all urban water suppliers reduced their water use by 30 percent or more.

While a good majority of cities are hitting their goals for water conservation, the cities in Stanislaus County, with the exclusion of Oakdale and Newman, fell short of their percentage marks, according to the SWRB's data.

Turlock, which has a water conservation goal of 32 percent, had one of the lowest rates of conservation in the county, with 19.2 percent.

"We fell a little bit short of our water conservation goal," Municipal Services Director Michael Cooke told the Turlock City Council during a water usage update at the July 28 meeting. "Fingers crossed, we should be pretty darn close to meeting that 32 percent target by the end of this month."

Jeremy Damas, the city of Ceres' Deputy Public Works Director, said the city is taking proactive efforts to conserve water. In June the city handed out 312 water wasting warnings, and 47 water wasting violations which generated $1,370 in fines. The city also issued 33 courtesy notices to households which had high water consumption rates.

The city has also enacted fines for households that exceed their water use targets, which are based on 60 gallons per person per day per household. The city expects a household of four persons to keep their water use under 7,000 gallons per month during January, February, March, October, November and December; and no more than 27,000 gallons per month in April, May, June, July, August and September. The fine schedule is designed to keep residents under the usage levels. Those who exceed the "target" by 10 percent would get a warning. However, 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. The target may be adjusted for household which have more than four persons or who have larger lots. Any homeowner may speak to the city Public Works Department about raising use targets.

Ceres also offers rebates for removing turf and installing water efficient dishwashers and so-called Smart irrigation controllers. The city also offers a $50 rebate for those who install a Smart Irrigation Controller since most sprinkler systems waste an average of 50 percent of the water.

To qualify for the turf removal rebate, the homeowner's expenses back to March 1 or later will be considered. A homeowner must take out at least 100 square feet of lawn and replace it with an eye-pleasing combination of rock or bark and drought tolerant plants. Proof of expenses must be offered to the city in order to qualify. Up to $500 will be offered.

Ceres residents have a tool at their disposal to monitor their water use thorough the website, and create an account. Of the 11,613 water accounts in Ceres, only 1,407 have created accounts to track their water use.

Modesto missed its goal by a slight margin. They are expected to conserve 36 percent and they recorded 34.1 percent. Oakdale exceeded their goal of 32 percent by conserving 44 percent.

Across the state, water suppliers reported that their compliance and enforcement programs saw an almost twofold increase in the number of complaints of water waste which resulted in a big jump in reported penalties. The SWRB reported 43,942 water waste complaints were issued statewide by 371 suppliers, compared with 28,793 complaints reported in May by 353 suppliers.

Of the 405 California suppliers reporting, 265 suppliers (65 percent) met, or were within one percent of, their conservation standard; 53 suppliers (13 percent) are between one and five percent of meeting their conservation standard; and 71 suppliers (18 percent) are between five and 15 percent of meeting their conservation standard. However, there are 16 suppliers (four percent) that are more than 15 percent from meeting their conservation standard. The SWRB will be contacting all suppliers more than one percent away from meeting their conservation standard and requiring many to provide information about their existing conservation programs and the steps they are taking to boost conservation. The suppliers furthest from meeting their conservation standard will be directed to take additional actions, such as imposing further restrictions on outdoor irrigation and increasing outreach and enforcement.

Monthly water use reports are required by the emergency water conservation regulation, and are provided to the SWRB by urban water suppliers. Urban water suppliers are expected to meet, or exceed, their individual conservation standard starting in June and continuing through February 2016. The SWRCB reported four water suppliers in California had not imposed mandatory irrigation restrictions, and 19 suppliers still allow outdoor watering seven days a week.

(Sabra Stafford contributed to this report).