Don’t penalize those who are already saving water

In California’s war on water waste, Draconian policies — $500 fines for hosing down driveways; water cops; anonymous tip lines — are getting a flood of attention. But don’t count on that approach to be particularly effective.

For one thing, catching violators in the act requires heavy enforcement, and some communities don’t have the funds or the inclination to send fleets of water police to patrol residential neighborhoods for scofflaws watering the sidewalk.

Yet conservation programs that are purely voluntary don’t seem to be working, either. After the governor asked Californians to reduce water consumption by 20 percent, statewide water use actually rose slightly.

(One caveat: Many individual communities, including local ones, have succeeded in reducing water use.)

In light of the continuing drought and spotty compliance with voluntary conservation, what’s the best course?

Instead of focusing on individual violations, we believe it makes sense to look at overall water consumption over time, and penalize those using more than their fair share. Many agencies already do this through tiered water rates. That’s good, but if that doesn’t save enough water, it may be necessary to increase rates at the upper tiers.

Or, consider Grover Beach: It recently mandated that all customers reduce water use by 10 percent. The city will determine whether customers are meeting the goal by comparing bills for the current cycle to the same billing period for the previous year. If customers don’t comply, they’ll be subject to fines based on their water consumption.

The Grover Beach plan, while basically sound, has raised concerns. Some residents who already are saving water are worried they’ll be unfairly penalized if they can’t cut down on water use even more.

“Our family already conserves by putting dish and shower water on our plants, taking shorter and fewer showers and watching our laundry loads. We feel that Grover Beach should look at people who use excessive water first and will see places where there could be big reductions in water use,” one resident wrote in a letter to The Tribune.

City Manager Bob Perrault says that will be considered when water consumption is reviewed.

“We will take into account the fact that the party is a low water user, is currently practicing sound conser vation and the likelihood of further reduction is not practical,” he wrote in an email to The Tribune.

For those who aren’t doing such a great job of conserving , there will be multiple consultations before any fines are assessed.

That makes sense; most SLO County residents should be able to reduce water use by at least 10 percent, if not 20 percent.

For example, in many neighborhoods green lawns are still much more common than drought-tolerant gardens. We aren’t arbitrarily picking on lawns — for most households in California, outdoor irrigating is the singlebiggest water use, so any effort to cut back there will make a huge difference.

As for those who have already ripped out lawns, switched to water-saving appliances and drained fountains and swimming pools — they deser ve abreak. We urge agencies considering mandatory, across-the-board reductions to establish a base line you want customers to reach. If they already are meeting that, then they’ve done their job.

As for the rest of us, let’s fix those leaky faucets; make sure the dishwasher’s full before we run it; and seriously — do we really need that second shower?