Drastically low rainfall levels over the last three years caused City Councilmembers to implement citywide water restrictions at an April 28 meeting. Photo by Catie Havstad.
Drastically low rainfall levels over the last three years caused City Councilmembers to implement citywide water restrictions at an April 28 meeting. Photo by Catie Havstad.

“You otter save water!” was the slogan of choice for the Santa Cruz Water Department in a recent effort to persuade Santa Cruz officials to approve limitations on water use for both businesses and individuals in the county.  

On April 28, the Santa Cruz City Council voted in favor of the Stage Two Water Shortage Warning, effective May 1 until the end of October 2009. The decision came in response to drastically low levels of rainfall and runoff for three consecutive years.

Vice Mayor Mike Rotkin explained that future restrictions will depend on water levels in the San Lorenzo River and in the Loch Lomond Reservoir.

“We approved a plan for restrictions that is permanently in place,” Rotkin said. “But which of the five increasingly strict forms of reduction we select depends upon conditions in any given year around May 1.” 

The department is focusing on mainly outdoor water use. Watering outdoors will be limited to a maximum of two days a week and only for certain hours. Watering down paved surfaces and filling swimming pools will also be prohibited. The goal is to cut back 15 percent of the department’s water use and to preserve more water in the Loch Lomond Reservoir.

“If people reduce their water use, it will prolong when we need to start drawing water out of the Loch Lomond Reservoir,” Rotkin said.

The reservoir, which has limited capacity, will be Santa Cruz’s only source of water after the San Lorenzo River and north coast streams dry up, Rotkin said.

The new restrictions affect all 90,000 city residents and Santa Cruz Water Department customers. From the north coast to Capitola, this includes UC Santa Cruz, restaurants, hotels and other businesses in the local area.

Leah Jue, a second-year who has lived off campus for a year, does not see the water restrictions as a burden. Jue said she looks forward to what she and her housemates can do for the community.

“We usually don’t water very much outside, so the water restrictions won’t really affect us, and I don’t see the need for anyone to get upset about them,” Jue said. “I think the water restrictions are very necessary.”

Among the restrictions is the prohibition of restaurants from serving drinking water to any person who does not specifically request it.

Before the vote was decided, some restaurants began placing notifications on tables to let diners know to request water.

Violators of the new restrictions will receive a warning on their first offense and then be fined $100, $250 and $500 in the event of second, third and fourth offenses, respectively. Additionally, on the fourth offense, the city will install flow restrictors that limit water supply by 90 percent, at the customer’s expense. Consumers that use over 1 million gallons annually will be fined triple the amount and face possible termination of water service.

Toby Goddard, the department’s water conservation manager, informed the council on Tuesday that notifications will be issued to all customers. The department will be using newly developed equipment to enforce the restrictions.

“We have developed a new piece of software to help us manage reoccurring cases of water abuse,” Goddard said. “And we set up a telephone line for people to inform us about leaks or maintenance issues at 420-LEAK.”

Vice Mayor Rotkin pointed out that Santa Cruz has had a history of  environmental awareness, and the new restrictions will help water levels remain constant.

“The people of Santa Cruz already are the most water conservation-aware group in the state,” Rotkin said. “We use half the average per customers statewide.”