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Water-Wasters: Ventura Trying to Catch the Drips

March 30, 1989|JESSE KATZ | Times Staff Writer

Wasters of water in Ventura could face fines, dribbling showers and even the loss of service under a tough new conservation measure passed this week by the City Council.

The guidelines, the first of their kind in Ventura County, prohibit excessive landscape watering, the hosing down of sidewalks or driveways, washing cars without a nozzle on the hose and ornamental fountains that do not recycle water. Restaurants that serve water without being requested to do so will also face penalties.

The ordinance, approved Monday on a 5-2 vote, will be enforced by the five customer service agents in the city's water department. Those agents, who spend most of their time repairing water meters and responding to consumer complaints, already urge those whom they spot carelessly watering to curb their use.

No 'Water Cops'

"It's not like all of a sudden we're going to have water cops out there," said John Mundy, the city's water superintendent. "This just gives us an extra tool to deal with the few people out there who aren't cooperative."

But Mayor Jim Monahan and Councilwoman Nan Drake, who voted against the measure, were not convinced.

"I just feel it's too much too fast," Monahan said.

"It's putting the cart before the horse," Drake agreed. "It's good to get the public's awareness up . . . before we come crashing down on them."

The council majority, however, concerned about the effect of three years of drought on the city's increasingly strained water supply, said mandatory measures were urgently needed.

"We have tried the velvet-glove approach," Councilman Richard Francis said. "Now I think it's time to put a fist inside."

Penalties Set

Under the ordinance, first-time violators would receive a written warning. Second and third infractions would bring fines ranging from 25% to 50% of the offender's most recent bimonthly water bill.

A fourth infraction would bring both a fine of 50% of the bill and a restricting valve that for at least two days would limit the flow of water in a person's home to one gallon per minute--a loss of about 65% to 85% of the pressure in a normal shower.

Any subsequent violations within the following year could result in discontinuation of water service.

Under a similar ordinance in Los Angeles, water service personnel have cited about 1,000 first-time offenders since April, 1988, said Gus Dembegiotes, a water conservation associate with the city's Department of Water and Power.

Another 100 second-warning citations, which carry no fine, have also been issued, he said. There have been no three-time violators.

"Sometimes you do have to take strong action to wake people up," said Lynn Anderson, Ventura County's water conservation coordinator. "The public usually feels that unless an agency takes steps like that, it isn't really a problem."

There's no doubt that water is scarce. Ventura, which gets its water from the Ventura River, Lake Casitas and several wells in east Ventura, used about 24,000 acre-feet of its 24,500-acre-foot water supply last year to serve about 92,000 customers.

A new well on the east end is expected to expand that supply to 27,000 acre-feet. Even so, officials say, there will only be enough water to serve another 9,000 or so people.

Officials hope someday to be able to tap into the State Water Project, a giant pipeline that supplies most of Southern California with water from the Sierra Nevada. But, so far, estimates have been as high as $120 million, and no formal plans have been proposed.

"If the public isn't aware of the problem, they don't want to be aware," Francis said. "Water is a critical issue."

THE WATER LAW PROHIBITIONS:

Excessive landscape watering; hosing down sidewalks or driveways; washing cars without nozzle on hose; ornamental fountains that don't recycle water; water served in restaurants without patrons' request.

PENALTIES:

First-time violators get written warning. Second infraction brings fine equal to 15% of bi-monthly water bill. Third infraction brings fine equal to 25% of bill or $50, whichever is greater. Fourth infraction brings fine of 50% and valve is installed that, for at least two days, cuts flow of water to home to one gallon per minute. Subsequent violations can result in total water ban.

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