The recent storm notwithstanding, the scarcity of water continues to take center stage at City Council meetings in Paso Robles. The most recent arm-wrestling event played out over the last few weeks as we struggled to find an equitable and effective way to insure the city complies with the latest water mandate from California Governor Jerry Brown. In response to the statewide water crisis the Governor has mandated that cities reduce water usage by 28% from 2013 levels. At the time we received this directive the residents of the City of Paso Robles had already reduced water usage 19%. “Pretty good,” we thought but, according to the State, not good enough.
To “encourage” cities to make good faith efforts to meet the mandate the State threatens to fine uncooperative municipalities up to $10,000 per day for missing the water conservation target. This encouragement will last at least through February of next year. The worst case scenario if the City fails to conserve more water is that we could be fined millions of dollars and have our water resources endangered by State permitting agencies.
(For those who have may have heard otherwise, the State of California does have the legal authority to make these demands.)
Two weeks ago the City Council rejected an ordinance that would have added penalty charges for the 22% of residents who are using more than 18,700 gallons (25 units) of water each month. The remaining 78% would have seen no change in their water bills. The majority of the Council felt the measure was not fair for families with more than four people and those with large lots and heavy landscaping.
(Again, for those who may have heard otherwise, these proposed penalties are allowed under the law and are not subject to Proposition 218 voter protest.)
The Council sent the ordinance back to staff for revision.
Last night the Council received a revised version of the ordinance that proposed a system which would credit customers for previous water savings and require the addition of a new temporary staff person (at a cost to water customers of at least $30,00) to assist those who wished to appeal their water bills. As with the previous version of the ordinance, the new one would make no provision to reward those who use less than 25 units of water. It did not address the issue of large families living under one roof and would have resulted in a situation where some people using more than 25 units would pay substantial penalties while others did not. Because it would take a minimum of 60 days to implement the ordinance it would not have gone into effect until the middle of October. Since landscaping water usage decreases significantly during the winter months it would have been extremely difficult for people to achieve meaningful reductions based on personal water needs.
In short, the new ordinance would actually have been less fair than its predecessor, would have cost more money to implement and would be less likely to result in the desired reduction in water consumption. Because of this I moved that the ordinance be rejected. The Council voted to support my motion.
So, there will be no penalties for large scale water usage in the City of Paso Robles for now. We will continue to depend upon the dedication and intelligence of our our citizens to keep water usage under control. We’ve done much already, but we can’t let up or we will face the prospect of heavy fines and/or other action from the State of California.
So, Paso Robles, I want to thank everyone who has worked hard to reduce water usage during this drought. Please continue that hard work. And, if you are among those who have been using more than 25 units of water per month, please consider cutting back. We must reduce water consumption or face expensive retribution from the State. High fines and worse could be the result of non-compliance.
I think we can make this happen without resorting to inequitable, convoluted, confusing and expensive penalties. Do you?
Let’s show California and the world that Paso Robles can make this happen without punitive government regulations. It’s up to us, folks.