Drought Pushes Chino And Chino Hills To Criminalize Profligate Water Use

The two cities at the extreme southwest corner of San Bernardino County, Chino and Chino Hills, have taken steps to criminalize what those cities’ officials deem to be the profligate use of water by their respective residents, landowners and business owners.
The restrictions recently codified into new ordinances in Chino and Chino Hills come as the result of a state mandate that Chino reduce its water consumption by 24 percent and a similar mandate on Chino Hills that it reduce water consumption by 26 percent.
After three years of drought and a measurement of snowpack that showed the thinnest amount of snowpack in more than 60 years of record-keeping in the Sierra Nevada, on April 1 Governor Jerry Brown mandated that cities throughout the state cut back on potable urban water usage by at least 25 percent. In the months since that time, the California Water Resource Board has formulated what are referred to as urban water supplier conservation tiers, which specify the specific amount of water reduction cities, towns, municipalities, counties and water districts must achieve in their operations this year.
To meet those goals, most governmental jurisdictions have contemplated across-the-board restrictions on their water customers. The primary method of achieving those reductions discussed consisted of water rate increases to discourage the wasteful use of water by households and businesses.
On May 26, the Chino Hills City Council passed an urgency ordinance vesting in the city code enforcement division the authority to ferret out wasteful use of water and cite the offenders, using a series of escalating fines and other means, to discourage the casual overuse of water. Upon the first cited offense, the Chino Hills ordinance calls for a $100 fine, though city officials said they would grant first offenders a grace period to come into compliance actuated by “a written warning.” If the written warning does not induce compliance, the first citation, carrying with it a $100 fine, would be issued. A second offense within 12 months would trigger a $200 fine, according to the ordinance. Third and fourth offenses would entail fines of $500.
Those going beyond a fourth violation of the city’s water restrictions would be subject, according to the ordinance, to prosecution under section 377 of the state water code and under section 1.36.020 of the municipal code. That portion of the code provides the city with the legal authority to jail offenders up to six months. The prosecutorial decision would be at the discretion of the city attorney.
As a final means of physically preventing a homeowner or landowner from using what the city deems an unacceptable amount of water, the city manager, or his designee, can utilize flow restrictors on the service lines of repeat offenders or outright shut off water service to the property in question.
In Chino, the city council on June 2 passed an even more draconian urgency ordinance, one that imposes fines of up to $1,000, while explicitly authorizing jail time as a punishment for water use scofflaws. The jail time reference stands independent from other penalties provided for under section 13.05.120 of the municipal code.
While the specified warnings and punishments the city council in Chino granted to its city manager and city attorney are initially less severe and more gradual than those in Chino Hills, they ratchet up to a harsher level than in the neighboring city. First- and second-time offenders within 12 months will receive written warnings in Chino and a third violation will result in the relatively mild punishment of a $50 fine attached to the offender’s water bill. The fourth and fifth violations, within one year will trigger $100 and $150 fines. Beyond that, the city manager is authorized to employ a flow restrictor. If that does not cure the problem, offenders will be hit with a $1,000 fine. After that, the city will seek to send offenders to jail.
Repeat offenders will be reported to the state, which would have the option of referring those matters to the California Attorney General’s Office for possible prosecution, assuming the state has been granted such authorization by the legislature at that point.
In Chino’s case, the ordinance piggybacks off a water conservation element to the city code adopted by the city council in 2009. Residents who allow irrigation water to run into the gutter, driveway, sidewalk or other paved surfaces will have run afoul of Chino’s water conservation ordinance.
In Chino, residents are required to limit their lawn and landscape watering to the hours between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Those caught watering their lawns or landscape after 6 a.m. or before 8 p.m. on any day or at any hour on Sunday, Tuesday, or Thursday are subject to warning, citation, fines or jailing.
In addition, residents are prohibited from watering while it is raining or within 48 hours after rainfall occurs.
The city, which has already replaced some of the grass in medians on Central Avenue with artificial turf, is resolving to water the remaining grass or landscaping in its medians citywide with recycled water only. The city is requiring that irrigation at new construction sites be effectuated with drip and microspray systems if drinkable water is used. The city has also dropped its requirement that hotels operating within the city launder the sheets and towels in their occupied rooms on a daily basis.

Leave a Reply