Most mornings, Randall Barron gets his start when the sun comes up. His calendar is packed, his car trunk full. Barron is one of Santa Rosa’s four “water cops” — officially, water resource specialists who patrol the city’s streets in search of water waste.
This summer, as the drought lingers on and the state’s water woes deepen, most of Barron’s time is spent traveling house to house, helping people find ways to save water.
“It all started the second Jerry Brown said the ‘D’ word,” Barron said referring to the work that began with the governor’s drought declaration in January. “I went from being able to see people in two or three days, and now it takes me a month or more to get to them.”
The backlog reflects the swelling interest among water-conscious city residents in tapping a number of programs aiming to cut household usage and save money on an increasingly scarce resource. A record number of customers have applied or inquired about Santa Rosa’s programs this year, and 1,675 homeowners are currently enrolled in a rebate program that pays residents to replace their lawns with drought-tolerant vegetation and mulches. The program pays 50 cents for each square-foot of lawn removed.
Another Santa Rosa program offers rebates for residents to install low-flow fixtures, including new faucets, shower heads and garden hose nozzles.
The voluntary efforts, which are in place in other cities across the county, are part of an evolving, two-pronged, carrot-and-stick approach to water conservation statewide. The incentives are the carrot, and that approach is set to get a boost in state funding next month, enabling local cities to launch new programs or enlarge existing ones.
On Tuesday, the state introduced the stick, with water regulators unanimously approving mandatory measures to cut outdoor water use and fines of up to $500 for violators.
The goal is to reach the 20 percent reduction target that Brown established in January when he declared drought. So far, the state isn’t anywhere near that mark, having recorded a 1 percent increase in use since the start of the year.
Officials are hoping that small changes in household water use can turn the picture around. Some residents say they recognize their role in achieving the water savings.
“I’ve already removed my sprinkler system, and I’m going to tear out my lawns and make everything drought-tolerant,” said Phillip Henderson, who met Barron outside his Bennett Valley apartment home Tuesday to get an estimate on how much he might earn by removing his lawn.
“It was important for me to acknowledge that the drought is here, it’s not just out there,” Henderson said. “This is something that I as an individual can do to help conserve water.”
Barron arrived with a car full of low-flow showerheads, hose nozzles and faucet fixtures. He used a laser instrument to measure the size of Henderson’s lawn.
“You’ll get about 514 bucks for this if you remove it,” Barron said, waving his arm over the property.
He wore a city T-shirt with a simple message on the front: “There’s drought on. Turn the water off.”
On the back it read: “Dry. The official T-shirt contest of 2014.”
California’s drought conditions — reflecting precipitation and water storage capacity — hit extreme levels last year, when state water officials declared 2013 the driest year since record keeping began more than 100 years ago.