Residents of the City of Turlock who use more than 40,000 gallons of water a month can expect to pay a $25 excessive water usage penalty, following a City Council vote on Tuesday.
Excessive water use penalties will be assessed on customer's utility bills beginning April 1. The first month that a single-family residence exceeds the 40,000 a month, a notice of the exceedance will be 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 would then be assessed on the second month or any following months that the customer used more than 40,000 gallons of water.
There will be an appeals process for those water customers who disagree with having to pay the penalty.
The excessive water use penalty follows 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 City expects more penalties to be incurred during the hot summer months than the winter months. According to City data, approximately 1,600 residential water users per month would have been penalized for exceeding the 40,000 limit during the summer months of 2016.
The Council adopted the penalty in a 4-1 vote, with Council member Matthew Jacob dissenting.
"I have a lot of heartache there, I think having 10 percent of our customers being fined is going to result in a whole bunch of feedback for all of us up here and it seems like too many of our customers off the bat to be fining, especially when you consider there are people on fixed incomes, senior citizens, low income. Twenty-five dollars doesn't sound like a lot, but multiple that by 1,600 and it's $40,000 a month. It seems a little too high," said Jacob.
The councilman also had an issue with the flat rate penalty.
"I also don't think that it's very prudent to fine somebody who's using 100,000 gallons the same as somebody who is maybe using 41,000 gallons. I think there is probably a better way to approach this," said Jacob.
Council member Gil Esquer also had concerns with the large number of people who would potentially be fined and their ability to pay, but he ultimately agreed to the penalty with the addition of the education proponent that will be offered in lieu of the fine for first-time water wasters.
"I understand water usage and that we need to cut back and conserve; I conserve as much as I can. Twenty-five bucks to anyone up here is probably not a lot of money, but there's a portion of out there where 25 bucks a month is a lot of money so I don't want to shove them under the bridge," said Esquer.
Vice Mayor Bill DeHart was passionate in his support of the excessive water use penalty.
"I find this whole topic fairly troubling from a couple of standpoints. Number one, whether it's 16,000 or 40,000 or 10,000 or 100,000, those numbers are really immaterial — those are water wasters. We are not addressing the issues before us if we are using those amounts of water," said DeHart
"This is not that difficult. We're not talking about turning it off; we're not talking about excessive use, we're talking about responsible use," he continued.
Mayor Gary Soiseth said that this is ultimately a water resources issue, something that Regulatory Affairs Manager Garner Reynolds backed up with statistics.
"We're doing really well with our conservation, but the City is currently having difficulty already meeting our peak demands...We did analysis where we took the total water use of each account that was in excess of 40,000 gallons for 12 months and determined how much water that was and it was 81 million gallons of water that was in excess of the 40,000 gallons per month. If you run the numbers on that and what would be the infrastructure necessary to deliver that water, and basically it's half of a well. We really can't install half a well, so you're looking at $1.5 million to install a well just to provide this excess water use," said Reynolds.
The 40,000 gallons of water per month for residential users allotment 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.