SACRAMENTO (CBM) – On May 5, the California Water Control Board approved emergency regulations designed with new methods – including steep penalties – for 411 cities and urban water suppliers to reach between eight to 36 percent water conservation. According to the new, strengthened rules, the Water Board now has the authority to issue fines up to $10,000 to water providers who don’t meet Gov. Jerry Brown’s 25 percent water reduction goal.
The governor has introduced legislation in the same vein as well. His provision empowers water agencies to impose hefty fines on residents and businesses, working hand-in-hand with city and county governments.
The new rules are coming as people across the state try to gain a sense of how the severe drought we’re experiencing might impact their lives. In Vallejo, a Bay Area city with a sizable Black population, for example, saving water has become a top-of-mind issue for many residents.
Roger Judy, Vallejo’s water education manager, said, since California Governor Jerry Brown issued the state’s first-ever mandatory water restriction last month, people living in the city have been asking his office questions.
“Customers call me and say, ‘I’m using only four or five units of water. How can I save more?’”
Tucked into a northern corner of greater San Francisco’s East Bay region, Vallejo is home to Lofas-Lakeside, one of the state’s oldest predominantly African-American housing sub-divisions. Rapper E-40 runs his “Sick Wid It” record label in the Solano County town as well.
To comply with the water cutbacks issued because of the severe drought, Judy said Vallejo will place new focus on outdoor water use – activities like grass sprinkling. “We are trying to get people who have large lawns and landscapes to reduce their outdoor irrigation.”
For exceeding set water use limits, residents may face fines, too. Vallejo, which has a 25 percent African-American population, passed a new ordinance that now dictates when residents can water their lawns. The city will also impose penalties on violators, said Judy.
“We started sending out letters that have been all about education,” he said. The notes inform residents “We have current water restrictions in the city,” he says. “Then, we list what those restrictions are.”
Judy said in order to save water his city guzzles from the nearby Sacramento River and Lake Berryessa, Vallejo has always had indoor water-saving initiatives involving shower heads, sinks, toilets, and washing machines. Now, pushing down outdoor water use has become a key priority for the city.
“Pay attention to your lawn, if it looks like your grass needs water than bump up your sprinkler a bit,” he said. “If it looks lush, bump it back two or three minutes.”
Vallejo is not alone in its efforts to save water during harshest drought the Golden State has faced since the 1800s. Water conservation is now a major initiative in several cities with strong African-American presences – including Compton, Inglewood, Long Beach and Los Angeles.
The governor’s drought mandate intends to reduce water use by 25 percent from June to February 2016. . Currently, local water agencies charge water wasters up to $500 penalties. However, he recently wants to increase those fines to up to $10,000.
Felicia Marcus, chair of water board, told reporters on April 28 the water restrictions are a challenge for some communities. They are necessary though, she insisted, because of the seriousness of the drought. Restricted water use needs to happen immediately, she warned, because water use is greatest in the coming summer months.
“We are in a drought we hoped we would not see in our lifetime,” said Marcus, who compared California’s drought to the Millennium drought that dried up Australia from 1995 to 2009.
Most areas with heavy black populations fall in the middle of the water board’s 11-page conservation chart. The document breaks down the amounts each of the state’s local water suppliers must conserve.
In 2013, the City of Compton used 1.8 billion gallons of water. In order to match that number during the governor’s nine-month restriction period, the city must conserve eight percent of its water.
Deidre Duhart, a Compton City Council spokesperson said the city has implemented some water restrictions and is evaluating how reaching its eight percent reduction goal will impact the community.
“We hope to formalize a plan of action for the City Council’s consideration sometime in mid to late May 2015,” she said.
Inglewood must save 12 percent of its water to match its 2013 water use. The City of Long Beach must conserve 16 percent to match its number two years ago. The East Bay Municipal Utilities District, which supplies water to cities including Oakland and Richmond, has a goal of 16 percent
Vallejo also has a conservation target of 16 percent. Judy said one of the ways the city is attempting to reach that number is with a new ordinance that will assign watering days to properties.
“If your address ends in an odd number, you will be able to water on certain days,” he said. “And if it ends in an even number, you will water on others.”
Cities are also doing local outreach to residents. Long Beach, for example, appointed water ambassadors that go into neighborhoods to educate people on saving water. The city has even created a YouTube commercial featuring the city’s water conservation mascot, “Conservyn Mervyn,” a costumed drop of water.
The board’s scientist Max Gomberg said, beginning in July, water suppliers across the state will be required to submit water usage numbers monthly. If they are not reaching conservation targets, the board may issue fines that could end up being key to enforcing the restrictions.
Fines are not the objective, though, he stressed. “Conservation is.”
By McKenzie Jackson
California Black Media
CBM exists to facilitate communication between the black community, media, grassroots organizations, and policy makers by providing fact-based reporting to a network of over 21 Black media outlets on leading public policy issues