In the face of a regional drought, many Orange County cities are trying to cut back on water consumption by rolling out conservation policies – echoing efforts from the previous drought that ended a few years back. 

Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency in October 2021 based on the state’s drought condition. In May, the State Water Board adopted regulations that require all local water suppliers to heighten water conservation policies.

According to the National Integrated Drought Information System, 2022 is the third driest year for OC over the past 128 years, affecting 100% of the county’s residents.

In response, city officials across the county are implementing mandatory water conservation policies restricting outdoor irrigation and other methods of addressing the water shortage crisis that spans the state — with a goal of cutting down water consumption by 20%.

The main changes in some OC cities include reducing outdoor irrigation to three days a week — or less — and the reduction of watering decorative lawns.

North and central OC cities source much of their water from the groundwater basin, meaning most cities that limit watering to three days a week will likely reach the 20% water conservation goal. However, some cities are reducing watering days to even less.

Some counties, like Los Angeles, don’t have access to as much groundwater and instead rely mostly on imported water sources. For this reason, some Los Angeles cities have reduced outdoor watering to just one day a week.

Anaheim

In Anaheim, the council unanimously approved the city’s water reduction plan on May 17 in hopes of slashing consumption.

The changes limit households to water outdoor plants three times a week during the hours of 6 p.m. to 9 a.m. — only on the designated days according to the home’s address.

Households with an even number at the end of their address will only be allowed to water their gardens on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday, while odd-numbered households can water on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday.

Further, households cannot use water on driveways or sidewalks and must repair any broken or leaky sprinklers to prevent irrigation runoff. Restaurants can only serve water upon requests and hotel workers must only launder linens when requested.

The staff report for the item outlines all the mandatory requirements of the water regulation plan.

Dukku Lee, Anaheim’s public utilities general manager, said the program emphasizes education so residents understand the need to conserve water. He also pointed to California’s last drought and the effects of water conservation enforcement. 

“In the 2015 to 2017 time frame during the last drought, our customers saved three billion gallons of water — primarily by reducing outdoor irrigation and fixing leaks, but also by programs such as replacing lawns with drought-tolerant landscaping,” Lee said at the May 17 meeting. “What we learned during the last drought was that outreach and education are so vital.”

Enforcement for the new policies include a warning and courtesy notice for the first two violations, followed by a $100 fine for the third violation that could increase to $500 after continued violations.

Lee said that during 2015 to 2017, only one fine was issued for non-compliance regarding water conservation.

Fullerton 

Fullerton staff has coordinated with the cities of Anaheim, Santa Ana, Garden Grove and Orange in an effort to cut the city’s water consumption by up to 20%. 

The city is also implementing a three-day limit for households to water outdoor plants and gardens, unless watering by hand. Even-numbered addresses can water on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, while odd-numbered addresses can water on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

Watering in parks will also be reduced. The staff report for the item said that customers have no restriction on watering using reclaimed water.

Enforcement includes a warning after the first violation, a $100 fine after the second violation, a $200 fine after the third violation and a $500 fine — with the possibility of water service termination — after the fourth violation.

“I ask our residents to recognize that we are in a very severe drought [and] to conserve where they can,” Mayor Fred Jung said at the June 7 council meeting. “If you speak so eloquently at council meetings about what this city means to you, I ask you to do something about that in terms of conservation of water.”

Delaney Felix, a water quality specialist for Fullerton, said at the June 7 council meeting that the city is also taking an educational approach to water conservation instead of jumping directly into enforcement efforts.

Fullerton has similar water conservation policies to other cities, but also prohibits filling lakes and ponds unless they sustain aquatic life. 

Huntington Beach 

Huntington Beach residents will also no longer be able to water ornamental lawns, excluding trees, shrubs and flowers. Irrigation will be limited to three days per week — Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Early morning patrols will be conducted by public works and other city staff to ensure households are not watering on Tuesday and Thursdays.

Additionally, filing or refilling ornamental lakes is prohibited, unless to support aquatic life. Watering by hand is acceptable on any day if the hose has an automatic shutoff nozzle.

Alvin Papa, deputy director of Public Works, also said public outreach is critical in water conservation efforts.

Like efforts by other cities, Papa said the education campaign worked in the previous drought.

“In 2014 we had asked the city and its residents to step up and produce water savings, and we’re proud to say that when we did that — the residents did step up,” Papa said at the June 7 city council meeting. 

“It was an amazing feat, and within a couple of months, we had met our goal. We are really confident that we can do it again, and we ask the residents this is something that we are doing not just for our region but for the entire State of California,” he said. 

Additionally, a grass removal program and rebate program will be available for residents willing to replace their lawns with drought-friendly landscaping. The rebate program will be $3 per square foot for those who wish to participate.

Other Cities 

Santa Ana approved similar water conservation measures, but further prohibits outside irrigation between the hours of 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., except by use of a hand-held watering device or a hose equipped with an automatic shutoff device.

Santa Ana residents have less days to water their lawns compared to other cities — only two days a week. 

The city council approved the measures within the consent calendar of the June 7 city council meeting without any discussion.

The staff report for the item also calls for public outreach and education efforts to help enforce the measures and increase water conservation.

Brea residents will be able to water their gardens three days each week – Wednesday, Friday and Sunday – from June to September. It will go down to just Wednesdays from October to April.

Residents are also expected to fix all water leaks in their homes within 48 hours. Brea City Council Members unanimously approved the measures at the June 7 council meeting without any discussion.

Orange City Council members unanimously approved the water conservation changes on the consent calendar at the May 10 meeting without any discussion.

The water conservation policy restricts residents to water three days per week from April to October and two days per week from November to March.

Angelina Hicks is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact her at ahicks@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @angelinahicks13.

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