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Council increases cap for water use

To prevent a tidal wave of fines from sweeping over thousands of Ceres residents who use more than their targeted water use levels, the Ceres City Council on Monday decided to order a reset.

A household of four residents was expected to use just 7,000 gallons of water monthly in October, November, December, January, February and March. The rest of the year, April through September, residents were expected to hold water use under 27,000 gallons.

However, since October proved to be warm and very dry, it became apparent that many Ceres residents were going to be receiving warning and fines in keeping their lawns and plants green. Jeremy Damas, the city's Assistant Public Works Director, recommended a more generous allowance for the transition months of October and March. The council unanimously agreed.

The new policy calls for water consumption limits for households as follows:

• 22,000 gallons for October and March;

• 12,000 gallons for November, December, January and February;

• 27,000 gallons in April, May, June, July, August and September.

Had the policy remain unchanged, an estimated 6,558 fines would have been issued for October water use, or about half of the city. With the larger allotment to 22,000 gallons for October, about 345 households would be fined.

"The program is built to educate and create awareness of the water," said Damas.

Ceres 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.

The city has issued 1,329 fines for water-wasting for far this, of which 1,149 were for watering on the wrong day. Only five of those fines were in excess of $100. The city handed out 1,251 courtesy notices about excessive water use. From June through September, the city issued roughly 800 fines for using more water than the target.

"Less than five percent of residents have exceeded their targets June through September," said Damas.

The policy change should not affect Ceres' ability to meet the state's mandatory 28 percent water cut back from June 2015 through February 2016. Cumulatively, Ceres has seen a 24 percent cut in water use. Of the 406 water purveyors in California, 72 percent have met or are within one percent of the goal.

As a statewide average, Californians use 102 gallons per day per person. Ceres is at 103, said Damas.

City officials have complained that the state didn't consider all the progress Ceres made prior to this year when setting the mandatory reduction percentage. Damas said Ceres is using 154 percent less water than in 2007.

Ceres is one of the few cities in Stanislaus County that has established a water cap.