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Hundreds of Turlockers assessed with water waster penalty
water use penalty
Single-family homes in Turlock that use more than 40,000 gallons of water a month will be charged an Excessive Water Use Penalty. - photo by KRISTINA HACKER/The Journal

Over 600 Turlock families received a financial reminder this month that the City of Turlock is taking its water conservation efforts seriously.

The City rolled out its new Excessive Water Use Penalty on June water bills, and approximately 695 customers used more than the allotted 40,000 gallons in May and were assessed a $25 fee.

“Using May 2015’s consumption, the 695 accounts were more than expected, however, there were factors that may have contributed to the rise in numbers.  The Governor declaring the drought is over, along with the hot weather experienced may have played a role in the increase,” said Turlock Municipal Services Analyst Fallon Martin. “While it is anticipated the number will increase as the summer months heat up, there may also be a decrease as customers become more cognizant of staying below 40,000 gallons.”

The Turlock City Council adopted the Excessive Water Use Penalty in January, following a State mandate under Senate Bill 814, which requires urban water suppliers to establish a method to identify and discourage residential excessive water use.

The first month that a single-family residence exceeds the 40,000 gallons of water a month, a notice of the exceedance is noted on the utility bill and the customer has the option of paying the $25 penalty or taking a water usage education course. The $25 penalty is then assessed on the second month or any following months that the customer used more than 40,000 gallons of water.

While water bills were just sent out on Friday, Martin said the City has already received a number of penalty exception requests. Customers can obtain an Exception Request Form from the Municipal Services Department. Customers can also appeal their excessive water use penalty by submitting, in writing, a request for a hearing. 

In April, Governor Jerry Brown declared the state’s drought emergency over. Many agencies have since relaxed their water use restrictions, however, the City of Turlock is continuing its drought years water conservation efforts. The City relies solely on groundwater and despite a wet winter and full reservoirs, Turlock’s groundwater supply is showing no signs of recovery and remains at an all-time low, according to City staff.

While the City has received community support for its water conservation efforts, some residents find the Excessive Water Use Penalty an undue hardship.

Danielle Ray Reyes addressed the Turlock City Council at their April 11 meeting noting a number of situations where she felt the penalty was not equitable.

The mother of three toddlers talked about the number of showers and laundry loads needed to care for her children in a safe and healthy manner as they are potty training and when they are ill with the flu. She also stated that her husband, who works as a respiratory therapist, must shower before and after each of his shifts at the hospital as to not spread germs.

Ray Reyes talked about both her and her husband taking extra showers after training for Spartan races and the use of their inflatable pool during the summertime when temperatures reach 113 degrees in Turlock.

After stating the reasons her active household needs to use water on a daily basis, she compared that with her mother who lives alone and is allowed the same amount of water before being penalized for excessive use.

“This fine has been extremely frustrating because it is a blanketed fine based only on the algorithm of being 40,000 gallons. You go over it and you’re fined. I believe the Council has done an inservice to its citizens’ wallets in this instance as you have blanketed equality for everybody and not equity. You’re failing to meet the needs of your individual populations and constituents based on their needs,” said Ray Reyes.

The 40,000 gallons of water per month for residential users accounts for 50 gallons per person per day for 26 people in a household and five gallons of water per square foot of outside irrigated area per month allowing for 6,800 sq. ft. of irrigation for a four-person home, 5,600 sq. ft. for an eight-person home and 4,400 sq. ft. for a 12-person home.