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Cities who conserved water early may be at a disadvantage
Saving even more water gets more costly
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Ceres has already done a remarkable job in cutting back on water use, said City Manager Toby Wells, but doing so may cause problems for the city. That's because the state - which issued a mandatory 25 percent cutback on water consumption - may not recognize those efforts and force deeper conservation measures at great expense.

Gov. Jerry Brown issued the emergency order earlier this month and delegated the authority of developing a plan to the State Water Resources Control Board. The framework contains four tiers that would require Ceres to also scale back water use by 18 to 25 percent even though the city has conserved by 45 percent since the peak year of 2008.

"The problem with that with cities like ourselves," said Wells, "is we started really in earnest on conservation measures in 2010 so we've seen some very significant reductions in our water use over time."

The state's rules - which may change - would "penalize" cities like Ceres by forcing them to take conservation to higher and more expensive levels.

Ceres and other cities have written letters to get the state to recognize the efforts already made.

"For us to go to the next level it would be very problematic. It would mean what now would look like an additional 18 percent."

Ceres was able to reduce water use with the required installation of water meters.

The matter will be discussed in greater detail at the April 27 Ceres City Council meeting.

The state expects to have its water plan in place by June 1 and would carry fines of $10,000 a day for jurisdictions which don't meet the reduction targets.

"Obviously $10,000 a day to the city of San Diego is a much different number than $10,000 a day to us," said Wells. "So there's some significant concerns of us trying to meet those criteria of what our residents have already done. They've done a tremendous job conserving water but we're going to be stuck in a tough spot and make some very difficult decisions to get to the next level."

Ceres Mayor Chris Vierra said he was disheartened to see Brown's order does not affect agriculture.

"To put it in perspective, the urban users, AKA the city of Ceres, represents about four percent of the groundwater that's extracted by the basin under us and even if we cut our consumption by 50 percent, that's about one and half percent," said Vierra. "Ag, on the other hand, and environmental uses are upwards of 80 percent."

The average household in Ceres uses 143 gallons per day, said Wells.

Mayor Vierra said one 1,500-gallon-per-minute agricultural pump can suck up the same amount of water in a minute saved by 10 households in a day.

"We all need to do our part here as urban dwellers but we need to understand even if we cut our consumption 50 percent we're one and a half percent of the groundwater (table). Ag and other environmental uses are much, much larger. When the governor says we need to continue go on with ag, I understand that, it's important, but I'm going to say I don't think we need to let rangeland continue to turn into farmland and take the water that we are so preciously needing here as urban users."