In response to the state's ongoing drought crisis, Alhambra City Council enacted Monday a water ordinance that prohibits residents from watering lawns more than two days a week.
This action comes in response to Governor Jerry Brown's mandated state-wide reduction in water usage of 25 percent. Municipalities are given their own varying benchmarks to meet. Alhambra was told to cut back by 24 percent, while South Pasadena was given 35 percent.
We created a breakdown of what Alhambra residents need to know about the city's new plan to fight one of the harshest droughts to have hit California in recorded history.
What is the new water ordinance?
The ordinance, titled Water Shortage Plan III, was adopted after the state demanded that Alhambra cut its water usage by 24 percent. The main features of the plan include:
- Residents may water their lawns only two days a week. In conjunction, watering is only permissible on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. This latter rule was enacted to help code enforcement keep track of residents' watering habits.
- Watering is prohibited between 8am and 6pm.
- Watering is not allowed 48 hours after measurable rainfall. Director of Public Works Mary Chavez noted that this rule was prescribed by the state, and that the definition of "measurable rainfall" remains vague. "We're still trying to find out from them what it means exactly," said Chavez.
- Plant life on street medians will not be watered, per state guidelines.
Some rules from a prior ordinance, Water Shortage Plan II, will carry over. They include:
- No watering of sidewalks.
- Hotels will now offer guests the option of not having their towels laundered daily.
- Customers will not be served water at restaurants unless requested.
Will I be fined if I don't follow the rules?
While the city has the ability to implement fines, the Council stressed that the new ordinance focuses on educating residents on water reduction practices. Residents who disobey the rules will likely be given citations, rather than fines.
"The staff is indicating that their first push will be with education and information and they will only resort to fines if they have to," said City Attorney Joseph Montes.
Currently, residents will not be penalized for not reducing their own water usage levels by 24 percent. They will be cited only for violating the rules that are listed in the ordinance.
However, if Alhambra fails to reduce its water usage by 24 percent, the city may adopt another new ordinance—Water Shortage Plan IV—that may put a stronger emphasis on fines and encourage residents to watch their water bills.
What is the city doing about public outreach?
The initiative will be promoted via the city website, the city's Facebook page, and a "Water Watchers" email. The city will also do outreach through Around Alhambra, the Chamber of Commerce's newspaper, and Gateway Alhambra, a mobile app that is intended to connect residents with local news. Informational inserts will also be included in bi-monthly bills.
"We need to really be proactive in informing residents what they can do, and what they can't do," said Mayor Luis Ayala.
Chavez added that residents can call the Utilities Department if they need help reading their water meters. "Part of what our program is going to be is, If you want to call us up and ask us 'Hey how much water are we using?' We will help you there," said Chavez.
What happens to Alhambra if it doesn't meet its water reduction goals?
According to Chavez, the city may be hit with a daily fine of $10,000 from the state.
What about other forms of landscaping?
Director of Development Services Tara Schultz noted that Alhambra residents are seeking alternatives to green lawns. "We're getting a lot of phone calls from people who want to do things to their front lawn to make them more drought-tolerant," said Schultz.
The city is working on updating its landscaping regulations to provide clearer instructions on what is permissible. On Monday's meeting, Schultz revealed a proposal that would require drought-tolerant lawns in residential areas to have at least 50 percent landscaping (terrain involving plant life). Up to 25 percent of the area may be comprised of decorative hardscape, which includes mulch and decomposed granite, and up to another 25 percent may involve a walkway or drive way. For lawns in commercial areas, at least 25 percent of the area must be covered in landscape, while up to 75 percent may be made up of decorative hardscape. City staff is also looking into allowing some artificial turf to be used; it is disallowed under current city code.
"These restrictions are for front lawns," Councilmember Steven Placido noted, saying that residents have more flexibly with their back lawns.
Has Alhambra been meeting its prior water reduction goals?
Recently, yes. According to materials prepared by city staff, Alhambra has seen a decisive response from its residents. In terms of water usage per acre feet, Alhambra had conserved only 5 percent in January when the numbers were compared with those from two years ago. This May, however, the city had reduced its water usage from 24 percent—matching the current benchmark—compared to figures from May 2013.
For inquiries regarding water usage, visit the city website or call the utilities division at 626-570-5061.