The Santa Monica City Council
The Santa Monica City Council

With California in the midst of a historic drought, the Santa Monica City Council voted Tuesday to take action to reduce water usage city-wide by 20 percent by December 31, 2016.

The ordinance approved Tuesday by the Council includes a package of incentives, designed to encourage residents and businesses to make water-wise choices, and penalties for water wasters.

“We are obviously in a very serious drought and need to do something. We need to look for ways to encourage people to change their behaviors now rather than wait for a time when we are quite literally out of water,” said Councilmember Gleam Davis at the meeting Tuesday.

Part of the ordinance calls for penalties for residents and businesses who fail to reduce their water usage by 20 percent below their 2013 usage. Penalties will begin in August, but won’t appear on people’s bills until October “to make necessary water saving changes to meet their water use allowance targets before penalties are issued,” staff said in a press release issued Wednesday.

“Residential and commercial water customers may apply for an adjustment to increase their Water Use Allowance if they can demonstrate they have taken all necessary measures to save water and cannot achieve a 20 [percent] reduction due to financial hardship and/or to prevent an emergency condition related to health and safety,” staff said.

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And, the ordinance takes into account that there are many in Santa Monica who are already conserving water.

“Residential water conservation thresholds have been set to acknowledge the conservation efforts that many residents have already taken. Customers who are at or below these conservation thresholds on a bi-monthly basis will not be required to reduce 20 [percent],” staff said.

Those thresholds vary depending on whether a customer lives in a single-family home or a multi-family home [an apartment or condo], since people who live in single-family homes tend to use more water per capita than apartment or condo dwellers. Businesses will expected to reduce usage by 20 percent regardless of their current usage.

According to the Santa Monica Daily Press: “Residents of single-family homes that use fewer than 16,450 gallons every two months won’t have to worry about their 2013 totals. The same is true of multi-family residents using fewer than 8,225 gallons.”

Here’s where it gets a little tricky: Usage totals appear on your bill in HCF (hundred cubic feet), not gallons. One HCF is equal to 748 gallons.

The thresholds expressed in HCF are as follows: 22 HCF every billing cycle for single-family customers and 11 HCF per unit per billing cycle for multi-family customers.

The City is also offering incentives to users who are willing to take steps to cut back on their water use.

“New and enhanced water conservation rebates, and the latest water-saving technologies and resources will be available to help customers meet their reduction goal. The most popular rebate, the Sustainable Landscape Rebate, will begin paying $3.50 for each square foot of lawn that is removed and replaced with climate-appropriate plants, mulch and/or drip irrigation. In addition, customers may choose to receive a 2-hour consultation with expert landscape designers for a small fee,” staff said.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Dean Kubani, manager of the Office of Sustainability and the Environment, said that the plan would keep Santa Monica on track for its overall water use plans, including the goal of water self-sufficiency.

“This package of incentives we are providing, along with penalties for those who do not comply, should help us weather the drought and further our goal of being water independent by 2020,” he said.

For more information, including tips on how to reduce your water usage, visit smgov.net/water or call (310) 458-2213.