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Surprise: Ceres meets water target
Ceres water production down 30% during August
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For the first time since the state set its mandatory water consumption reduction program, Ceres has it met its target.

During August, Ceres achieved a 30 percent reduction when compared to water production in August 2013. That beat the state-set target of 28 percent by two percent. That is good news since Ceres fell short of the state target in June when it achieved a 18.31 percent reduction in June and 26.6 percent in July.

The city of Ceres is doing its best to meet the state mandates for water consumption reduction. So far, as predicted, it's been a very difficult task.

City officials knew from the start that meeting the state's 28 percent water cutback was going to be tough. Why? The city said from the peak use in 2008 until April, Ceres already had seen a 48 percent reduction in water use and said realizing deeper cuts would take difficult and expensive measures.

"The city of Ceres as a whole has been doing water conservation for a very long time so the water board penalized us when they came in and said arbitrarily ‘we're going to use 2013 as a comparison' because that's typically when most cities really started realizing, hey, we have to do water conservation," said Jeremy Damas, the city of Ceres' Deputy Public Works Director. "Not to our favor because we've been doing water conservation since 2009 and 2010. Are the numbers ever going to completely going to be in our favor 100 percent? No, there's no way."

Damas said the state should have recognized Ceres' prior reduced water production achieved starting in 2010.

"We would have exceeded for every month if they had," said Damas.

Meeting the 28 percent in September and October will be tricky, he said, because Ceres saw low water production in fall of last year.

In 2012 the city switched to an automated water meter reading system whereby residents can track their water use by an hour by hour status if they wish, through a web portal. Only 13 percent of all households are signed up to monitor their account. Only 1,521 out of 11,631 water account holders are a part of the web portal. The city would like to see those numbers increase.

The water meter system flagged 239 households in July for excessive water consumption and issued warnings and 268 fines. Damas reported that only one of those violators were signed up for the web portal, and if they had been might have averted a citation.

Water conservation staff working for the city issued 414 warnings for either excessive water run-off or watering at the wrong times or days. The same staff issued 79 citations for repeat offenders that came with $1,980 in fines paid.

The annual daily average water use was 101.61 gallons per person while the estimated July number was 114.89 gallons per person per day.

"We're using less water today than we were in 1996 with 12,000 to 15,000 residents in town," said Damas.

The city has two part-time employees who are driving neighborhoods looking for water wasting.

"We work those shifts seven days a week. We work early in the mornings and late at nights."

Conservation is apparently on the minds of more than a few Ceres residents. Damas said his staff responded to 104 calls from residents who wanted their meters inspected for accuracy, audits of their water use, calls about water wasting or calls to shut off water so repairs of leaky pipes could be made.

One tool in the city's tool box is water conservation rebates for turf replacement and the installation of water-saving devices. In July the city issued 59 rebates for a total of 128 this year. The city offers $75 rebates for low-flow toilets and water efficient dish washers and washing machines. A rebate of $50 is offered on the purchase and installation of so-called smart irrigation systems.

Vernon Wegner was paid $500 by the city to replace 500 square feet of turf with drought tolerance landscaping while Louis Wheeler was issued a $190 check for taking out 190 square feet of grass.

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."

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.

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.