With meteorologists reporting the hottest first six months in California’s recorded history, the State Water Control Board has put water guzzlers on alert that they face $500 fines if they continue to water excessively, hose down their cars on public streets, or douse their lawns during daylight hours. Exactly how this edict from will be enforced, however, remains an unresolved question for county water czar Tom Fayram, who said he wasn’t entirely clear which agencies would be charged with taking push to shove. “I’m not calling this a stunt,” he said of state board action. “I’d say they’re trying to up the ante.”
That’s because efforts thus far to get state water customers to voluntarily cut back by 20 percent have yet to bear significant fruit. That, it appears, might be changing. City residents managed to cut consumption by 15 percent in the month of June after posting negligible reductions in the months prior. City attorney Ariel Calonne said the $500 fines do not apply in Santa Barbara, because the city has a state-approved water management plan. Still, he said, the city can and will impose fines of its own, some, he said, as high as $500. The city’s new water rates — charging disproportionately high rates to the biggest water users — went into effect July 1, and officials are hoping the anticipated sticker shock achieves further reductions. Montecito, home to some of the state’s most extravagant water consumers, has seen conservation cutbacks as high as 40 percent.
As the drought intensifies, Santa Barbara’s Environmental Health department has seen a 100 percent increase in the number of well applications; 114 such applications were filed in the 12-month period leading up to June 2013. In the two years prior, there were 54, and in the year before those two, it was 41. The depth of these wells remains the subject of further inquiry, likewise the failure rate of these and existing wells.