Water agencies say they're cracking down on outside watering -- but enforcement is murky. (Craig Miller)
Water agencies say they’re cracking down on outside watering — but enforcement is murky. (Craig Miller)

Two of the Bay Area’s highest-profile water agencies enacted their versions of “mandatory” water restrictions on Tuesday.

Customers of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission are facing an edict to cut outdoor water use by 10 percent. But as a practical matter, the order applies mainly to the Commission’s 1,600 customers with separate metered water accounts for landscape irrigation — golf courses, parks and the like. Those customers who fail to comply could see their water rates doubled.  SFPUC General Manager Harlan Kelly called it, “a small, but important step.”

San Francisco’s water cops will rely on whistleblowers for broader enforcement. Customers with three reported violations could be fined $100 per day, but in general, SFPUC “will be focusing on education and training, not policing and fining,” according to a Commission news release.

Spokesman Tyrone Jue says that after a slow start, SFPUC customers (in San Francisco and three other Bay Area counties) have tripled their water savings since late June and are on track to attain an overall 10 percent reduction benchmark by Labor Day. The latest restrictions don’t take effect until mid-September.

Meanwhile the 1.3 million customers of the East Bay Municipal Utilities District have their own new set of mandatory water restrictions. Actually they’re the same voluntary rules that the District already had in place, but are now deemed mandatory under its newly declared “water shortage emergency.” But officials at EBMUD don’t plan to impose fines on water wasters.

“We’re more of the carrot versus a stick type of agency,” says EBMUD spokeswoman Andrea Pook. She says residents are encouraged to call the District and report wasteful watering when they see it. On average, EBMUD customers use 40 percent of their water outdoors. When customers are fingered for profligate watering, Pook says her agency’s approach is to, “talk with the people first,” followed by a letter.

“Certainly we do have the right to put a flow restrictor on or even shut someone’s water off if they are a flagrant water abuser.”

Pook says EBMUD customers as a group have already surpassed the 10 percent savings goal that the District has asked for previously and for now, that’s enough. Pook says that EBMUD water supplies are in better shape than many, so from her agency’s standpoint, “We’re not looking at Year 4 of drought, we are in Year 1 of drought. We feel like we’re doing our homework to plan ahead, but you never know.”

East Bay MUD’s mandatory water rules echo the recently issued state guidelines:

  • Limit watering of outdoor landscapes to two times per week maximum.
  • Prevent excess runoff when watering their landscapes.
  • Use only hoses with shutoff nozzles to wash vehicles.
  • Use a broom or air blower, not water, to clean hard surfaces such as driveways and sidewalks, except as needed for health and safety purposes.
  • Turn off any fountain or decorative water feature unless the water is recirculated.

Water Restrictions: Meaning of ‘Mandatory’ Depends on Where You Live 14 August,2014Craig Miller

  • Fay Nissenbaum

    I want to bust a neighbor who waters her sidewalk and front lawn daily – even if it rains. She uses so much water that it runs down the sidewalk for a third of the block.

    • Roy Sawyer

      That is more ridiculous than the fact you had to point it out on the internet. Her needs for that much water are unfounded but could you have maybe contact local authorities or something instead of here? I feel that might be more appropriate and faster reacting.

      • Howard Myers

        Or knock on her door? It is possible she doesn’t realize what is happening or doesn’t know how to stop it.

        • Saiful Rimkeit

          For 4 years??

      • Saiful Rimkeit

        Sometimes we announce publicly to ask for opinion or gather courage to execute what is mentioned?

    • Saiful Rimkeit

      So, do it. Don’t hold back. Be nice.

    • Saiful Rimkeit

      I wanted to bust a shopping mall for watering the median’s grass with water running down the driveway on both sides. Then, they stopped doing that so I didn’t have to.
      Here we are, pulling back on taking less showers or shortening them, using more deodorant, extending the wearing of clothes, sleeping between the sheets longer, using cleaner towels twice, hanging facecloths to use again, freshening blankets in the dryer instead of washing them, catching cold shower water in buckets to use in the garden, ditto with kitchen water, flushing less often, shutting the faucet while brushing the teeth, knocking off the water flow after rinsing the safety razor, shutting the running water while soaping our hands, minimizing or shutting the water between every dish we rinse and then put into the dishwasher, buying appliances which use less water… And the neighborhood golf courses are still green. Can golfers play on brown, manicured grass and walk on it? Crunch, crunch, crunch — instead of swish, swish, swish? Will the score be +3, or “three-over-par” or -3, or 3 under par playing in brown greens and fairways? Why do wealthier neighborhoods still insist on using 2 to 4 times more water than the less well to do neighborhoods? We are into 4 years worth of practice. If 4th year violin students practiced as we do with saving water, they would sound like a 1st semester 7th grade beginners class. You remember what that sounded like? Are we all dancing and playing to the same tune, yet?

  • Kathy

    In one instance a neighbor was unsure how to operate the new technology for his sprinklers, and, going through personal health problems—–but nothing will stop
    vicious neighbors. Absolutely nothing.

    • Saiful Rimkeit

      Tell the neighbor: “Read the _______ manual”, or RTFM. But how does that relate to viciousness? What have I missed.


Craig Miller

Craig is KQED’s science editor, specializing in weather, climate, water & energy issues, with a little seismology thrown in just to shake things up. Prior to his current position, he launched and led the station’s award-winning multimedia project, Climate Watch. Craig is also an accomplished writer/producer of television documentaries, with a focus on natural resource issues.

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