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Water district may hire 'enforcers' to investigate water wasters

The Santa Clara Valley Water District is considering hiring up to 10 people to respond to complaints about people wasting water in the county, a district spokesman said.

The district's board of directors at its meeting Tuesday night in San Jose is set to vote on a staff recommendation to spend $500,000 to fund temporary employees to investigate and warn people against wasting water, district spokesman Marty Grimes said.

The district is working with the 13 companies that buy its fresh water and other agencies in the county to cut water use by 20 percent from 2013 levels as part of its response to local drought conditions, Grimes said.

Officials fear that if the current drought continues, the district's groundwater reserves may fall to the "severe" level of 200,000 acre feet by the end of the year, Grimes said.

If the board approves the recommendation, five to 10 temporary water conservation enforcers would be available for water companies to investigate reports of violations within the county, Grimes said.

The enforcers would be looking for water violations listed by state regulators such as washing down driveways and sidewalks, landscape watering that results in excess runoff, using a hose with no shut off nozzle to wash a car and using drinkable water in a decorative fountain unless the water is recirculated.

The employees would not have the authority to issues fines and instead would deliver warnings to water wasters, Grimes said.

Water providers in Santa Clara County that purchase water wholesale from the district include the San Jose Water Co. - by far its biggest customer -- and firms in the cities of Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Palo Alto, Morgan Hill and Gilroy, according to Grimes.

District officials have been receiving complaints from the firms all summer about people wasting water, but the district has had no employees to send out to investigate and neither do the companies, he said.

None of the cities in the county has moved to levy fines against those who fail to follow water conservation rules and are reluctant to go beyond warning perpetrators, Grimes said.

The effort by the district comes a week after the State Water Resources Control Board in Sacramento approved an emergency regulation to increase water conservation in California.

The state board said it expected large water suppliers to begin mandatory restrictions on outdoor irrigation of lawns and landscaping, which takes up to 50 percent or more of daily water use in the state, according to control board spokesman George Kostyrko.

Water agencies that fail to comply with the new rules of the enforcement order are subject to fines of up to $10,000 per day.

The control board permitted agencies to ask local courts to allow them to fine water wasters up to $500 a day.

Gov. Jerry Brown on April 25 issued an executive order directing the control board to adopt emergency water conservation regulations to ensure that water suppliers implement conservation measures.

On Jan. 17, Brown issued a drought emergency proclamation citing more than three years of dry or critically dry conditions.

According to the Nebraska-based National Drought Mitigation Center, Santa Clara County is in the highest-category stage 4 level of "exceptional drought" this year.

San Jose has had 6.1 inches of rain so far this year, 42 percent of normal, district officials said.

Local reservoirs in the county are at only 47 percent of capacity, with Chesbro reservoir at less than 4 percent, Uvas and Guadalupe reservoirs at 10 percent and the Lexington reservoir at 18 percent.

The reservoir with the highest water level in the district is Anderson, which is at 61 percent, Grimes said.

The board's meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. today at district headquarters, located at 5700 Almaden Expressway in San Jose.

— Bay City News Service

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