Long Beach Utilities Commissioners voted Thursday to approve a new water supply shortage plan to better align with the state’s guidelines for times of drought, which will bring larger fines and quicker shutoffs for water wasters.

The new four-stage plan outlines what types of watering uses would be barred during declared shortages and lists the corresponding fines that would accompany violations. It better aligns with the state’s six-step plan, which required translation for the city’s previous three-step shortage plan.

“It is then uniform across all water agencies and easier for the public to understand what is required because the terminology across all agencies will be the same,” Dean Wang, the Utilities Department’s manager of water resources told the commission about the proposed changes.

Under the new plan, rules against excessive water loss through leaks or irrigation, watering between the hours of 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., washing hardscape without a pressurized device and other water conservation measures will remain in place regardless of what stage the city is in and could trigger a violation.

But Thursday’s meeting also came with some good news on the state of the city’s water supply: Commissioners voted to reduce the current declared shortage from Stage 2 to Stage 1.

A screenshot from the presentation given to the Utilities Commission Thursday June 22 showing the new fine structure for the updated water shortage plan in Long Beach.

Under the new rules adopted by the commission, that means residents can return to watering outdoor plants and lawns three times per week (Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday) for 10 minutes per station. In a Stage 2 shortage, that would be reduced to just Tuesdays and Saturdays during the winter. A Stage 3 shortage would restrict watering to Tuesdays and Saturdays year-round.

Restrictions for State 4 have not been developed yet, but Wang said that the city has never dealt with a call for 40% or more reduction in water usage.

The new fine structure would escalate with the declared water shortage. A first-time offense when there is no shortage could result in a $25 fine. However, a first-time offense during Stage 4 could trigger a $300 fine.

A third violation when there is no declared storage could result in a $100 fine. But a third violation during a Stage 4 shortage would be $1,200. All fourth violations, regardless of water shortage declaration, could result in a customer’s water being turned off if approved by the commission.

“At that point, if they’ve had three violations—three strikes and is not responding to a fine—we want the general manager to have the authority to shut off water service,” Wang said.

Public notices are expected to be sent out next week, and the changes would go into effect Aug. 1.

Budget adoption delayed

The commission was also scheduled to adopt the proposed budget for the 2024 fiscal year Thursday, but it opted to call a special meeting for June 26 to give it more time to discuss a late request from Long Beach to help fund the city’s Climate Action Adaptation Plan.

Commission President Gloria Cordero said the commission was “given a number” by the city that the panel should meet to help fund the plan, and the commission would discuss the issue at length on Monday.

Commissioner Bob Shannon called for the delay in the vote, saying the figure was “large enough to discuss.”

It’s unclear what that number is or how it will affect the proposed budget. The commission was already expected to raise water rates Thursday to help fund the department’s investments into accessing cheaper groundwater and help build up the department’s dwindling reserves.

While department staff had recommended a 10% increase, which would have raised monthly bills for the average single-family household by about $5.69 per month, the board is considering a 9% or 9.5% increase, which would result in a $5.13 or $5.43 increase per month respectively.

Gas and sewer rates are expected to remain unchanged in 2024.

The commission is scheduled to hold a special meeting Monday, June 26, at 9 a.m. at the Utilities Department headquarters at 1800 E. Wardlow Road.

Commissioners discuss hikes to Long Beach water rates; vote expected June 22

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