CAPITOLA >> The Soquel Creek Water District board took the first step Tuesday toward implementing a residential rationing and mandated commercial conservation proposal designed to cut consumption by 11 percent over current demand for up to 20 years.
The board unanimously approved returning Sept. 2 to make final adjustments before the plan, backed by penalties for excess use, goes into effect for residential customers early next year and for commercial accounts in July.
The program to cut 163 million gallons of pumping each year represents only a third of the district's long-term annual goal to address groundwater overdraft, which has invited seawater toward coastal wells. The district also is sorting out disputed studies of the extent of overdraft and reviewing supplemental supply options such as desalination, recycled water and basin recharge.
"We're on this track to find more and save more," conservation manager Ron Duncan said.
Customer Randa Solick of Aptos applauded the proposal, saying she tapped district rebates for rainwater barrels and a graywater system to irrigate her garden. Still, she can't cover all her landscape, saying, "We're all going to take a hit."
Other customers raised questions about whether the rationing is too low for large lots with gardens and why single-family customers aren't allowed more water than multifamily accounts when they typically have more landscaping. Several speakers urged the district, which accounts for only half of the groundwater basin pumping, to press for private wells to be metered.
Board members raised concerns about customer privacy, saying requirements for verifying the number of people per household are troublesome.
"I think we should set up the system so that we trust people and not make it too onerous," board member Bruce Jaffe said.
How it works
Under the "Conservation Plus" program, residential accounts with more than one person will be rationed 75 gallons per person daily with fines of up to $4 for each 100 gallons over the limit. Residents can request more water for health reasons or if they have large animals or operate licensed care facilities.
Although the typical residency within the district is from two to three people, the board set the baseline at one, which means account holders may have to prove through birth certificates, tax records or other measures that there are additional people. Customers who live alone would receive 85 gallons daily.
Customers may apply once annually for additional water for 30 to 90 days when occupancy temporarily increases because visitors come for the summer or during holidays, though the board asked staff to investigate the cost of allowing for two extension periods.
Commercial, industrial and vacation-rental property customers would not be put on a budget, except for those with dedicated irrigation meters, because different types of businesses use water differently. However, businesses and organizations will be required to perform retrofits, including installation by July 2016 of toilets that use 1.28 gallons or less per flush and urinals that use 0.125 gallons per flush. Properties also must check indoor fixtures and irrigation fixtures each month for leaks and maintain a log provided by the district, then fix leaks within 72 hours.
Aptos resident John Hibble said the logging requirement is onerous.
"I thought you were working for customers, not the other way around," he said. "It's heavy-handed and not necessary and I hope you will take it out."
Non-residential customers face fines up to twice the cost of water for violations. The cost of the program is estimated at $3.2 million in 2015 and about $2 million each year for the next two.