In response to protests by residents over a water rationing plan tentatively approved this week, the city of Ventura has embarked on a massive public information campaign to explain the strict new conservation measure.
City officials say all water consumers in the city will be mailed brochures in the next two weeks detailing how the new law will work and what residents can do to cut back on water usage to meet their allocations.
The ordinance, which would impose water quotas on residential users and mandate cuts of 15% to 20% for non-residential users, is expected to receive final approval from the council Monday and become effective April 13.
Once the ordinance becomes effective, the first bimonthly billing period will be considered an adjustment period and no penalties will be imposed. But beginning with the second billing period after the ordinance becomes effective, excessive use will be penalized at up to 10 times the normal rate.
"We've been real busy answering calls from residents who want to know how to meet their allocations," said Henry Graunlich, a Public Works official working for the information campaign.
He said that since the ordinance received tentative approval, a special water hot line's three phones have been ringing nonstop. He said the city will add two more lines to handle the volume of calls.
The department also is preparing information brochures that will be mailed March 23 to the city's 22,400 customers. The brochures, Graunlich said, will offer suggestions on how to cut water use in addition to explaining the ordinance.
"The greatest residential water user is the toilet," Graunlich said, outlining one of the water-saving tips to be included in the brochure. "Residents should consider installing water bags on the back of the toilet, or replacing the current toilets with ultra-low-flow fixtures."
A third element of the public information campaign will be the redesign of water bills to include water allocation levels and warnings to customers during the adjustment period that they are exceeding their allocations, Graunlich said.
On Tuesday, the Ventura City Council approved the water conservation ordinance after a long and at times confusing debate, punctuated by members' indecision and changes of heart.
Under the ordinance, businesses and agricultural users will be forced to cut back by 15%, and government agencies by 20%.
Single-family residences would be limited to 294 gallons a day, and multifamily residences to 196 gallons a day. Public Works Director Shelley Jones said water usage by multifamily dwellings is usually lower than for single-family residences, in part because lawns are often communal.
Residential users would receive small bonuses based on each dwellings' average use over the past three years, if that average exceeds the allocation.
Another provision would ban all new water hook-ups, except for affordable housing projects and those in the last stages of the plan-approval process. Under this provision, 1,323 current projects would be allowed to go through, but 236 others would not.
The council debate, which for the third week in a row pushed the Monday evening council meeting past midnight, centered on the cut-off date for the moratorium on hook-ups.
After several rounds of balloting on different cut-off dates failed to produce a majority, the council approved on a 4-3 vote a moratorium encompassing all new projects that did not receive discretionary approvals by Jan. 9 or plan check approvals by March 5.
Having cleared that hurdle, the council voted 6-1 to introduce the water rationing ordinance. Councilman Jim Monahan cast the dissenting vote.
He said the council was using the water shortage as an excuse to impose a building moratorium.
"I don't like to see an ordinance being imposed on an emergency fashion, then turn around and use it as a growth-control measure," Monahan explained.
Minutes later, while the council considered Weston Co.'s 98-unit condominium project, developer representative Charles Cohen reminded the council that his development had not made the cut-off date for water hook-ups.
In response to Cohen's concern, Councilman John McWherter moved to reconsider the vote on the cut-off date ordinance proviso, which he had previously introduced. His motion fell short, 4 to 3. The council then voted for a three-week continuance on the project approval.
The continuance, council members said, was adopted to give staff time to work language into the water ordinance that would exempt the Weston development and a 20-unit single-family Westland Co. development from the moratorium.
In exchange for the hook-ups, these two projects would install water conservation equipment in existing structures to save the city twice as much water as the allocations the new developments would receive.
The city's water hot line is 652-4567.