COACHELLA, Calif. — California’s water board brought the hammer down on four Southern California water agencies Friday, fining the Coachella Valley Water District and Indio $61,000 apiece for failing to meet Gov. Jerry Brown’s conservation mandate.
The fines were a long time coming. From June through September, homes and businesses served by the Coachella Valley Water District cut back just 27.1%, short of their 36% target. Indio was at 21.6%, far from its 32% goal.
Two other water agencies in California also are being fined: the cities of Beverly Hills and Redlands, which also will pay $61,000 each.
“People have been trying. I just think some have been trying harder than others,” said Felicia Marcus, State Water Resources Control Board chairwoman.
State officials didn’t mince words in criticizing the desert for not saving enough water.
Cris Carrigan, the water board’s director of enforcement, said the Coachella Valley Water District’s poor numbers “illustrate a lack of sustained commitment to conservation.” The district’s recent decision to postpone raising penalties for water wasters, “shows an unwillingness to take all possible actions.”
Carrigan also slammed both agencies for not issuing a single fine to customers who violated water-waste rules from June through September despite receiving nearly 1,000 complaints in that time. The Coachella Valley Water District issued its first two $50 fines this week.
“Millions of Californians have demonstrated their commitment to saving water during this drought,” Carrigan said. “Nevertheless, we could have saved even more water if some of the homes, businesses and institutions in these communities had stepped up in the way that their fellow Californians have.”
John Powell Jr., president of the Coachella Valley Water District’s board of directors, pushed back against the state’s criticisms. The 27% conservation that the district’s customers have managed thus far, he said, is “unprecedented.”
“The representation that we haven’t done enough — I think it is at odds with what we have done, and frankly the efforts our customers have made to save a tremendous amount of water,” Powell said. “Our customers should be thanked for their response and stewardship of this precious resource.”
September was a good month for the state overall with California cities cutting their water use 26%. From June through September, urban areas used 28.1% less water than they did during the same months in 2013 — well above Brown’s statewide mandate, which requires an overall 25% reduction from June through February.
While the state as a whole is on track to meet its goal, the Coachella Valley is another story: None of the area’s six water agencies met their individual targets over the first four months, meaning they could see more fines from the state, possibly as high as $10,000 a day. Five valley water agencies have higher targets than the statewide 25% goal because per-capita water use is so high in the desert.
Carrigan acknowledged that the $61,000 fines won’t be a major deterrent for any of the four agencies being penalized.
“We want to work with these entities that have received these fines to get them to do better,” Carrigan said. “We don’t want the fine money. We want them to do better.”
The state water board chose to fine the Coachella Valley Water District and Indio $500 a day for the 122 days from June through September, for a total of $61,000. The agencies have two weeks to appeal their fines to the five-member water board.
Powell said the district will “challenge” the state water board on several of its concerns although he wouldn’t say whether the agency would appeal the fine. General Manager Brian Macy of the Indio Water Authority said city officials haven’t yet decided whether to appeal.
“Indio is one of the fastest growing cities in California, and we are committed to continuing outreach to our customers as well as implementing programs to reduce water usage,” City Manager Dan Martinez said in a statement. “In the meantime, this is a reminder that we need all our residents and businesses to join the conservation effort and help reduce water use.”
Mission Springs Water District, which serves Desert Hot Springs, is even further from its conservation goal than the Coachella Valley Water District. In August, the state water board ordered Mission Springs to study the feasibility of adding a “drought surcharge” to water bills.
But the water board chose not to fine Mission Springs or seven other agencies that have received similar conservation orders. Those agencies, Carrigan said, serve smaller populations and have fewer staff members than the ones fined Friday.
Follow Sammy Roth on Twitter: @Sammy_Roth
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