Santa Cruz deploying water cops to combat drought
August 4, 2014
Touting strategies like deploying “water cops” and sending abusers to “water school,” the city of Santa Cruz has emerged as California’s leader in the water conservation push during the current drought. [Mercury News]
Santa Cruz has instituted a policy of strict water rationing. A family of four is allotted a monthly ration of 10 units of water, or 7,480 gallons, to cover all uses, including watering the lawn.
Violators who exceed their monthly ration face penalties of $50 per unit, and their monthly water bills often surpass $500.
One man returned from an eight-day vacation in Hawaii to discover that he had a $4,000 water bill. The flapper in his toilet tank was leaking, and he was repeatedly penalized.
Residents who incur penalties on their bills can now attend city water school. The Santa Cruz water department set up a water school this year, modeled after traffic school, in which residents can get fines waived for completing a two-hour water conservation class.
In addition to penalizing violators on their water bills, the city employs two water cops who write tickets for offenses like irrigating during the daytime or hosing down pavement. Filling hot tubs is also banned.
As a result of the city’s conservation efforts, water use in Santa Cruz has decreased 26 percent from its 2012-2013 average. Conversely, statewide water use has increased by 1 percent this year.
Tim Quinn, executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies, said other cities should use Santa Cruz as a model.
“We need the urban areas to start acting like that,” Quinn said. “Santa Cruz is the canary in California’s coal mine.”
Some California cities have already adopted water restrictions similar to Santa Cruz’s but others are counting on a predicted El Nino storm season to hit the state in the next year. Chances, though, of an El Nino arriving are decreasing from 90 percent to 50 percent, according to the most recent reports.