A LBWD billboard outside Tracy’s in East Long Beach. Photo by: Jason Ruiz

The Long Beach Water Department released a statement today announcing the city’s water usage for the month of July hitting a low mark not met since the 1950s. The compliance of citizens with water usage restrictions announced in February and a substantial uptick in residents reporting water wasters has gone a long way in keeping the city as one of the frontrunners in water conservation.

However, according to Long Beach Water Department Director of Government and Public Affairs Matthew Veeh, despite nearly 600 water wasters being reported last month there have been no fines issued to residents during the current drought. Or ever, for that matter.

The restrictions imposed in February, and similar ones imposed by the State yesterday, prohibit the watering of driveways or sidewalks, limit the irrigation of landscapes to three days a week, and in Long Beach, prohibit restaurants from serving water unless specifically requested by the customer. Violators were subject to a fine that was raised to $500 per day by the State yesterday.

Veeh said that in previous years the department received about one or two reports a day, but since the imminent water shortage notice they’ve been getting about 300 to 400 a month before hitting the 600 mark in July.

While Veeh said that they are pleased that people are cognizant of the violations that are occurring and that residents are taking it seriously, no fines have been issued. When the anonymous reports are filed on the department’s Water Waster link or through its mobile app, the department sends out literature reminding the residents of the city’s water prohibitions in hope of getting them to stop their wasteful behavior. Veeh stated that the vast amount of the time that stops the problem, negating the need for the department to become “water cops.”

“We don’t really intend to issue any fines, at least right now,” Veeh said, noting that during the drought of 2007-2009, there were a handful of citations issued to commercial addresses for wasting water.

The Board of Water Commissioners of the City of Long Beach established a set of base fines for a prohibited use of water charge in a 2009 agreement which is posted on the LBWD’s website. It stipulates that depending on the level of water crisis issued by the city, the base fine for a violation could range from $150 for an incident documented prior to a declared Stage 1 water shortage up to $250 for an incident occurring after the effective date of a declared Stage 2 shortage. Each violation would have the attached base fine multiplied by the number of violations, meaning, a third violation during a Stage 2 shortage would result in a $750 fine.

Despite the lack of enforcement, the city has been able to achieve reductions in water usage every month since the imminent water crisis announcement earlier in the year. In a week where the California drought crisis has garnered national attention, highlighted by a ruptured water main in Westwood that spewed over 20 million gallons of water onto the streets of Los Angeles, the LBWD announced today that the city’s water usage for the month of July was the lowest it’s been in over 50 years.

The last time Long Beach used this little water in July was in 1958, when there were 150,000 less people living in the city. Long Beach water usage was down 21% from the historical 10-year average for the month as the city consumed just over 5,300 acre-feet of water.

“Our residents have been the leaders in conserving water for the last seven years in California,” Veeh said. “Every time in the past when we’ve asked them to step up their efforts they’ve responded so this is really just a testament to how responsive our residents have been in realizing the importance of conservation and how it relates to a reliable water supply.”

Taking away from the positive news of the historic low water usage for the city is the fact that the state continues to be mired in what is projected to be the worst water crisis in California history. Most of the state continues to be classified as experiencing an exceptional drought, the worst of five categories as ranked by United States Drought Monitor.

Since the Long Beach Board of Water Commissioners released an imminent drought warning in February, the city’s water use has decreased every month compared to statistics from the previous year. The annual per capita water use is down to 112 gallons daily according to the LBWD, a mark that is one of the lowest urban water usage figures in the State.

“Convincing a city of 500,000 people to re-commit to water conservation doesn’t just happen overnight,” Kevin Wattier General Manager for the Long Beach Water Department said in a press release. “During the last drought, it took us two years of aggressively promoting water conservation to reach all of our customers, which allowed us to achieve the levels of conservation that we were aiming for.”

Veeh said that continuing to promote conservation and making it clear that this drought probably isn’t going anywhere anytime soon is critical to assuring that the city’s water supply remains stable. With weather patterns suggesting that an El Nino event, what some people were hoping to pull California out of its bone-dry dilemma, looking less likely to have any kind of impact, actions of residents are really going to determine how badly the drought affects the city.

Veeh noted that any chance of an El Niño happening, and therefore providing California with a wet year, is diminishing.

“Next year, there is no assurance of any kind of wet year,” Veeh said. “We can’t rely on just hope for a good rain and snow pack next year. We have to take action now to make ourselves more reliable.”

Editor’s note: this article’s headline has been changed.

Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @JasonRuiz_LB on Twitter.