Myth of the LB Water Police
From Issue: Volume XXII - Number 17
By Steve Propes
It’s no secret that California is experiencing an unprecedented drought, making water a highly prized commodity. According to the Long Beach Water Department’s Director of Planning and Conservation Matthew Lyons, “This is the third year of a drought, which is one of the things that makes it so bad.”
Unlike some water districts that depend heavily on “imported water,” the Long Beach system “relies heavily on water we have in storage. We pull more and more water from storage and our account is getting really low. The less we spend and the more we conserve, the more we have, just in case.”
Using up local supplies means just that, less water for local use in case imported water supplies are disrupted. In past years, the water department “has tried to increase water we get locally as opposed to importing water, Over the last 10 to 15 years, the average has been 44 percent of local water. Over the last two and half years, it’s been 54 percent. We’re hoping we’ll become less and less reliant on imported water. We’ve increased our use of recycled water, our water conservation program.”
In response to the drought, some municipalities, most notably the City of Los Angeles, have created “water police,” who have the authority to issue citations and fines for violators of water usage codes.
On February 27, 2014, Long Beach Water Commissioners declared on imminent water supply shortage restricting landscape watering to Monday, Thursday and Saturday. “You cannot water between 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. because during those hours, water evaporates between when it comes out and hits the ground. You can only water 10 minutes per station, 20 minutes with rotating nozzles. You can use a pressure washer for businesses or schools.”
“We do not have water police and we are not threatening or fining people,” said Lyons. “If we get a complaint, we send the customer a letter to let them know there may be a violation taking place. We prefer to educate people about restrictions and provide tips about how they can get into compliance.”
Of 90,000 residential and business water accounts, in January, there were 80 complaints and 88 in February. There were 577 complaints in July.
Light rain fell in late July. “The good news about the sprinkles is that people cut back on landscaping usage, this past July the city used less water than any July since 1959,” said Lyons. “There is less water in curbs and a lot of this reduction has come from water use in single family homes. About half of the water used is used for landscape irrigation. Our turf replacement program is for people to start thinking about huge gains in water conservation. More and more people are becoming aware of huge demands in water supplies.”
Some proffered solutions include increasing use of non-potable water for new toilet installations. “Our reclaimed water district system is more limited as our potable system,” meaning only a limited area of Long Beach has the pipes needed to accomplish such an idea.
The idea of desalination is a non-starter for Long Beach because of the needed electricity and environmental consequences. As far as ocean denizens are concerned, “desalination kills everything” living in the water.
“We have enough water for what we need water for, but we don’t have enough to waste water. If we go into a deeper shortage, we will make it a prohibition to fill swimming pools. The next least cost alternative to ground water, is just to buy the imported drinking water,” said Lyons.