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‘Water cops’ may become a reality for many southland communities


There may be “water cops” patrolling your neighborhood this summer. As the state drought continues to dry up pastures,  crops, orchards and reservoirs, residents statewide could be fined for overusing water.

The dry climate could mean residents in nearby Santa Clarita may be subject to measures outlined in a new blueprint for water usage. If needed, the plan will operate in stages, the first element being voluntary water conservation which the Castaic Lake Water Agency  (CLWA) has set between one and 15 percent of normal usage. If things get worse, CLWA will require more than 15 percent but not more than 25 percent reduction. The plan culminates at reductions of more than 35 percent.

The water committee is not empowered to impose water use standards, but only to make recommendations to the various water agencies such as Los Angeles County, the City of Santa Clarita, Newhall County Water District, Santa Clarita Water Division, Valencia Water Company, L.A. County Water Works District 36 and the Castaic Lake Water Agency.

“The real purpose is to have a forum to discuss water resource issues and reach collaborative solutions between multiple agencies,” said Steve Cole, manager of Newhall County Water District. To date, the agency has only requested voluntary water reductions. But, “…if a violation is ongoing, the district may disconnect service until the violation is corrected,” he said.

A first violation will result in a verbal warning. A repeat violation will result in a fine of $40 which will be added to your bill. Another mistake will result in a $100 fine and, depending on what district supplies your water, you may have to install a flow-restricting device. A fourth violation will result in a fine of $250 and the district may also disconnect the water user’s water service at the property where the violation occurred.

If you’re caught washing your car—except at a commercial facility that recycles water—you would be in violation of “stage 3.” Fines will not be issued for persons failing to meet a recommended 20-percent cutback, but rather for having violated specific and identified “water-wasting” habits such as hosing down the driveway or cleaning rain gutters.

The U.S. Senate on Feb. 11—led by Democrats Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer—countered an earlier GOP-sponsored House bill with legislation which would, in part, provide $100 million in emergency funding to maximize water flow, and another $100 million to build temporary barriers to protect fish populations in Northern California. The House bill, supported by Reps. David Valadao, Devin Nunes and Kevin McCarthy, would end efforts to restore the now dry San Joaquin River and divert a greater share of water to the Central Valley where farming land is parched.

“Today our families, farmers and business are paying 100 percent for water they never receive, jeopardizing the ability of California farmers and laborers to work and grow the food that feeds the nation; that is a value that no government subsidy or handout can substitute,” McCarthy said last week.

Desalination has been a mere dream for Californians…until now. The Carlsbad Desalination Project is under construction and hopes to become the largest sea water treatment plant in the Western Hemisphere. When it comes online in 2016, the $1 billion facility may produce enough water to meet the daily needs of 300,000 area residents, which is about seven percent of the county’s water requirements. Desalination has been ongoing in the oil-rich Middle East for decades; recent technological advances in membrane materials and energy recovery systems have cut in half the energy requirements for turning sea water into drinking water.

“I think it will turn out that it is very affordable compared to not having the water here in Southern California, particularly with the drought that we are facing and the fact that the governor has just cut off the flow of water from north to south in the aqueduct, the State Water Project,” said Randy Truby, comptroller for the International Desalination Assn.

City officials in Santa Barbara are rethinking desalination. The cost was once prohibitive, but now new technology has made the idea more feasible. Planners are in early discussions about investing some $20 million to upgrade and restart a $34 million desalination plant that was constructed in the early 1990s as a hedge against ongoing drought. “It was really a challenge to continue to run and operate the facility given the much cheaper surface water,” said Joshua Haggmark, the city’s interim water resources manager. “The facility was mothballed. Part of it was disassembled and sold to Saudi Arabia.”

Morris Dam in Azusa is almost dry. Although water has been released from aquifers to help stem the record-low levels, officials overseeing the San Gabriel River confirmed on Tuesday that this reservoir, like most throughout the state, is in a perilous condition not seen in 119 years.

On Wednesday, Gov. Jerry Brown and democratic leaders unveiled a $687 million plan to improve water conservation methods as well as cleaning up drinking water supplies. “We really don’t know how bad the drought is going to be,” Brown told reporters. The plan would also increase penalties for illegal diversion of water supplies and include another $40 million in money  collected from fees on polluters.