The Long Beach Water Commission may upgrade the city’s water shortage level next week, which would bring with it new restrictions on when residents can water landscaping.
Updating the city’s water shortage stage comes as California heads toward its third straight year of drought. The proposal to go to Stage 2, which would limit landscape irrigation to two days per week year-round, would take the city back to water conservation rules not seen since June 2016.
The new stage would include already existing prohibitions like watering within 48 hours of rainfall or having excessive runoff from sprinklers or letting a hose run while washing a vehicle.
They would also limit summertime irrigation to two days a week instead of three. Summer is defined by the department as the months of April through the end of September.
The commission was set to adopt the new rules at its April 14 meeting before a discussion about which days residents should be allowed to water their yards and plants derailed the vote, pushing it to Thursday, April 28.
Bob Shannon, the president of the commission, was the biggest objector and said that to pick two days would be viewed as arbitrary by residents and said the board should just limit it to two days and let residents decide when those two days are.
“I just don’t think we have the moral right to tell people what day of the week to water on,” Shannon said.
Shannon also opposed fining residents who do run afoul of the new rules and encouraging neighbors to tell on neighbors for overwatering. Shannon said the department should be seeking voluntary compliance from the community.
“We don’t have water cops around here,” Shannon said.
His stance received some pushback from water department staff for the potential effect it could have on marketing materials that are already set up to inform customers of the days that outdoor irrigation is allowed (Tuesday and Thursday) and because it would make it difficult to tell who is watering twice a week if people are watering on different days.
Commissioner Frank Martinez said it was important not to have “squishy little rules” with something as important as water conservation and agreed that having the board set the days will help keep people on patterns and help department employees spot rule breakers.
“If we’re going to enact rules, we need to have some punitive measures in there,” Martinez said. “We’re going to have people who are flouting these rules and we need to be able to do something about it.”
The department has very rarely fined account holders, instead relying on an educational approach to bring people into compliance. That can include warning letters and visits to individual homes to make them aware of the rules and the potential penalties, something the water department says has been successful in the past.
Lauren Gold, a spokesperson for the Water Department, said that penalties would only be assessed after extensive outreach to customers to gain compliance. Under the State 2 shortage fine schedule, a first violation of the water restrictions would be $75 with the fine going as high as $900 per violation after the fourth violation.
Gold said the Stage 2 restrictions would stay in place for as long as the board decides it is necessary. If conditions improve, it could vote to move back to Stage 1, but if conditions worsen, the city could move to Stage 3. A move to that stage could be forced by an executive order from the governor or if the city’s water supply is shown to be 40% to 50% less than demand.
According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, a website that compiles data from multiple federal organizations, all of Los Angeles County is in a state of severe drought and the state as a whole has seen drought conditions worsen since the start of 2022.
Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an executive order last month calling for water suppliers to adopt rules to save 20% of water from historical demands, which could mean 2013 levels for Long Beach. Newsom’s conservation mark could eventually rise to 30%.
Other cities in the region could be facing stricter rules in the coming months because they’re more dependent on water from the state’s water project, which supplies Southern California cities with water from Northern California.
The Metropolitan Water District, which distributes that water, is considering its own rules that would limit outdoor irrigation to one day per week and eventually zero days if drought conditions worsen.
The affected areas could include Los Angeles and parts of Ventura and Riverside Counties, however, Long Beach’s ability to pump local groundwater and access water from the Colorado River is allowing it to set its own rules, for now.
Water Department General Manager Chris Garner warned that the department could get direction from the district and the state to take more drastic measures as the state’s water situation gets worse, which could include more restrictions as the weather gets hotter and drier.
Garner signaled his support for the board setting the days for outdoor irrigation rather than letting residents choose on their own.
“There’s going to be a point where we’re going to have to start enforcing and at that point we’ll have to designate clear parameters for when people can irrigate,” Garner said.
The commission is expected to vote on the new water storage restrictions at its April 28 meeting that is scheduled for 9 a.m. The Water Commission meets at 1800 E. Wardlow Road.
Editors note: This story has been updated with additional information from the Long Beach Water Department.
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