Seal Beach Adopts Fog-Friendly Water Rules

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Seal Beach City Council members enacted the first phase of emergency water conservation plans Monday in response to state-mandated restrictions created last month.

The city, however, amended and loosened the regulations before adopting them.

The long California drought has cities scrambling to implement stringent conservation tactics, including costly fines on residents and businesses for overwatering.

But Seal Beach is taking a more relaxed approach.

Council members altered emergency plans, and said cars can be washed at anytime and its okay to water lawns during the day–9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Most cities that have strengthened water use rules limit use of lawn sprinklers to roughly 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.

When lawns are watered during the day, the sun evaporates the water, but Seal Beach City Council members said evaporation is not an issue there because the weather is cooler than inland.

“Here at the beach … the fog doesn’t burn off until noon, so we’re not going to get the evaporation,” said Mayor Ellery Deaton.

The State Water Resources Control Board passed emergency regulations July 15 and began enforcing them about two weeks later.

Those new restrictions:

• bar residents from washing down sidewalks or driveways

• over watering landscapes so that water runs onto paved surfaces

• washing cars without shut-off nozzles and

• operating decorative fountains that do not recirculate water.

Violators could be charged up to $500.

Amended portions of the city’s emergency plans are not included in the state mandate.

“There is some room to change how we implement Phase One,” City Attorney Quinn Barow said.

Additionally, enforcement of the regulations will be lenient.

While many cities are hiring “water cops,” to enforce new restrictions, Seal Beach is splitting the time of a single storm water inspector to patrol the city part-time for 20 hours a week.

When Councilman Gary Miller suggested a hotline residents could call to report violators, Deaton was quick to shoot it down.

“I don’t like neighbors turning in neighbors,” Deaton said.

And a 90-day educational period to raise awareness of the new regulations will be treated more like a grace period.

“Unless there are repeat offenders that are violating the ordinance, it’s likely that we won’t have a fine through the 90 days,” Public Works Director Sean Crumby said.

Violations range from written warnings to a 15 percent surcharge added to water bills.

Repeat violators could have water-restriction devices installed on their water meters. The logistics, however, have not been worked out because of how quickly the regulations were handed down from the state, Crumby said, adding the device would be a “last resort.”

“The motivation of the city is to comply with the state’s order and reduce water consumption, not to levy any fines,” Crumby said.

But Seal Beach’s appetite for water is rising. City consumption is up 3.7 percent from 2013, and city staff members are unsure if restrictions will stop the bleeding.

“I can’t detail how that will effect our water at this time. We’re not quite sure how much the reduction will go down,” Crumby said.

Deaton blames the increase on the drought itself. Residents are watering their lawns more because there is less rain, she said.

Water used by a naval weapons station located within city limits is included in the state’s figures for water consumption. The federal property is exempt from state mandates.

Seal Beach’s relaxed enforcement methods run counter to some California cities that are taking aggressive steps to curtail water use.

Santa Cruz implemented some of the state’s toughest regulations in May, allocating households a set amount of water and charging them by the gallon if they surpass their limit. Similar to traffic school, violators can opt for a two-hour water education class to waive fines.

Water usage in the city is now half the state average.

New regulations come in the midst of a three-year drought that caused Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a state emergency. He requested all California residents voluntarily reduce consumption by at least 20 percent.

Instead, consumption has risen about 1 percent statewide, prompting the mandatory restrictions. Urban water agencies failing to implement conservation plans could be fined up to $10,000 per day.

Deaton says Seal Beach was ahead of the curve, implementing measures in 2009 to reduce usage.

“We’re very water conscious. Many of us have artificial turf. We’ve been very proactive in having the measures in place already,” Deaton said.

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