Newport Struggles to Hit Water Conservation Marks

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By Tim J. Randall | NB Indy

The city of Newport Beach Water District continued struggling to meet the higher 28 percent benchmark placed on it by the State Water Board.

“Hitting that 28 percent is tougher than some of the surrounding districts that are at 20 and 24 percent,” said George Murdoch, the city’s municipal operations director. “We are going to keep moving forward to hit the goals. There are a lot of initiatives happening.”

September however, proved to be a good conservation month for both Laguna Beach water districts, with South Coast Water District and Laguna Beach County Water District exceeding their target mandates of 24 percent, at 30 percent and 24.5 percent respectively as compared to Sept. 2013 figures.

Andy Brunhart, general manager of the South Coast Water District, which serves South Laguna and neighboring cities, indicated that “our multi-faceted approach has been successful, with our customers demonstrating excellent awareness and conservation,” he said.

Those efforts have included expanded customer communication outreach, partnering with high volume water users on integrating recycled water and utilization of the district’s Targeting Conservation Grant Program, which “encourage customers to convert to efficient toilets, weather-based irrigation controllers, efficient sprinkler nozzles, and Turf removal,” said Brunhart.

At Laguna Beach County Water District, the General Manager, Renae Hinchey was equally pleased with the September findings, noting in a press release that: “Thanks to our customers’ efforts to reduce outdoor water use, we were able to meet our reduction goal for September. As we move into the cooler months, however, continued effort is needed if we hope to meet our 200 million gallon target by March,” she said. “We are happy with the progress we’ve made, but there’s still more savings needed.”

In Newport Beach, conservation actions mirror those in Laguna Beach districts, although Newport is taking a markedly more aggressive approach through an expanded enforcement campaign.

“I don’t like the citation approach, but it seems that we have exhausted the friendly options,” said Murdoch.

The code enforcement process, which was used nearly 1,000 times in September according to Murdoch starts with a simple notification to the business or residence that they are out of compliance with the water usage regulations, including outdoor watering more than once or twice a week. Then moving forward, more progressive actions are taken including fines from $100.00 to $500.00 per day. “This week we will be sending out notices to the top 100 residences and 50 commercial enterprises that are overusing water,” said Murdoch. “We monitor these lists closely and act on them.”

In Laguna Beach, the South Coast Water District also uses a series of notice and fines similar to Newport Beach, but Brunhart indicates that the numbers are considerably smaller than in Newport Beach with only 77 code enforcement actions. However, the numbers must be put tin context that Newport Beach serves 66,000 users, while Laguna Beach and South Coast districts serve 19,000 and 35,000 users respectively.

Overall the two Laguna water districts are split in their performance over the period of record since the state enacted the reduction enforcement measures in June. In the four month window, South Coast Water District has achieved total reductions of 31.4 percent, well ahead of their 24 percent mandate. At 22.8 percent reduction in usage, Laguna Beach Water District is still 1.2 percent away from their 24 percent objective.

Rounding out the pack, Newport Beach District has achieved 22.1 percent usage cuts, falling 5.9 percent short of their 28 percent target. “We are behind and need to continue to address the shortfalls, so we can hit the February 2016 cumulative state number of 28 percent,” said Murdoch.

If water targets are not hit by districts in any one month or cumulatively by February, the State Water Board receives the right to levy fines. A Newport Beach City Council meeting on Nov. 10 will include updates from Murdoch on the progress thus far and moving forward.

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