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Rohnert Park OKs mandatory water limits

Rohnert Park is the latest city to crack down on wasteful water users and impose mandatory conservation measures in the face of one of the worst droughts to hit the state in a generation.

With the passage of a new city ordinance this week, residents are no longer allowed to water lawns to the point of excess runoff or wash vehicles with hoses that do not have shutoff nozzles. Washing down driveways also is prohibited, as are decorative fountains that do not use recirculated water.

The city will stop short of fining violators, officials said, even though it has the authority to levy fines of up to $500 per day. Instead, those who waste water will get a visit from code enforcement personnel followed by a letter asking them to be more conservative with their watering. A third infraction could result in a customer’s water being shut off.

The restrictions are markedly less severe than those in some California cities like Santa Cruz and Sacramento, where conservation officers patrol communities and write tickets or issue fines.

“I know some cities are putting in water cops,” said City Councilwoman Gina Belforte. “We felt that, rather than be cops, it’s more the education aspect that was really important. We’re not out there to rough people up, but just to remind them that there’s a drought.”

The City Council unanimously approved the mandatory order on Tuesday, joining cities across the state and in Sonoma County, including Healdsburg, Cloverdale, Santa Rosa, Windsor and Sebastopol, in responding to state water regulators’ mandatory water conservation requirements. Gov. Jerry Brown in January declared a statewide drought emergency during one of the driest winters on record.

Councilwoman Pam Stafford said that Rohnert Park has the lowest per capita water use - 111 gallons per person a day - among cities and districts served by the Sonoma County Water Agency. Residents have cut water use by 7 percent compared with this time last year.

“The city of Rohnert Park is already exemplary at what they do,” Stafford said. “This is really just a reiteration of what we are already doing.”

Rohnert Park was among the first in the state to use recycled wastewater for irrigation in the 1970s, Mayor Joe Callinan said. The city in February passed a resolution encouraging residents to cut their water usage by 20 percent.

“I’m all for this,” Callinan said. “It’s state mandated and something the we need to do.”

The emergency regulations are in force for nine months. The state can fine cities up to $10,000 per day for not enforcing the regulations.

Other requirements include limiting irrigation to between ?6 p.m. and 8 a.m. when evaporation is less likely, a mandatory 20 percent reduction for commercial irrigation accounts and inspections to make sure sprinklers are in good repair.

Councilman Amy Ahanotu said the regulations are a good first step, but the city should do more to change residents’ water usage behavior. He said the city could, for example, offer incentives for people who remove their lawns or switch to more efficient irrigation techniques.

“I think this is a short-term solution,” he said. “As we pass this, we need to start looking beyond one year. If it means some incentives from the city, we can consider that.”

You can reach Staff Writer ?Matt Brown at 521-5206 ?or matt.brown@pressdemocrat.com.

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