Environment & Science

DWP board OK's plan to start fining major water users up to $40k

A gardener walks past a row of sprinklers watering plants and foliage in front of an apartment complex in South Pasadena, California on Jan. 21, 2014.
A gardener walks past a row of sprinklers watering plants and foliage in front of an apartment complex in South Pasadena, California on Jan. 21, 2014.
Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

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The board for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power passed an ordinance Wednesday setting up a mechanism to fine major water users who don't cut back their consumption. The mechanism would provide for monthly fines of $1,000 to $40,000 for "unreasonable usage." 

The board also added additional penalties for minor water violators that increase on a sliding scale depending on the severity of drought conditions.

Los Angeles is currently in Phase 2 of DWP's emergency water conservation program. Violations like hosing down driveways and outdoor watering on off days can cost customers $100 to $300. Under the new plan, those fines would increase as drought conditions worsen and higher conservation phases kick in. In the worst drought conditions, fines would range from $400 to $1,200.

DWP officials have been looking for a means of punishing profligate water users ever since the Center for Investigative Reporting last fall reported that L.A.'s affluent Bel Air neighborhood used more water than any other community in the state. One customer, the report said, used more than 11 million gallons in one year.

“We need something for someone who says, ‘My water bill is not that big compared to every other bill I have in my life. I want to have what I want to have and I’m willing to pay for it,’” DWP Senior Assistant General Manager Martin Adams said in a presentation to the board of commissioners. “We need something that has some teeth in it to address unreasonable usage.”

The ordinance would allow DWP to approach big users and require an audit from the utility to determine a reasonable amount of water use for the property. If those customers fail to meet prescribed limits, fines could range from $1,000 to $40,000 a month.

The board of commissioners passed the motion in a 4-1 vote. Only commissioner Christina Noonan voted against the proposal.

“I think this agendized item is faulty in that you’re not really comparing apples to apples,” Noonan said in the meeting. “I think it is unfair to penalize people who have larger properties, maybe more people living within their home.”

Adams said the audit system would be designed to take into consideration factors like the number of people in a household, the size of a property, the type of landscaping and the climate. He said it was meant to be a fair system to address water overuse on a case-by-case basis.

“The goal is not to fine people,” Adams said. “The goal is to get people to change behavior and get people to do their fair share.”

The motion will now now head to City Council for approval. Adams said if all goes according to plan, his department could start using the new system as early as this summer.