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Cal Water applies for permission to raise penalties for irrigation violations

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In this 2017 file photo, a sprinkler designed to spray in a circular area on the edge of a lawn on A Street in Bakersfield sprays into the street and other paved areas.

Local customers of California Water Service may soon face enforcement actions against their use of outdoor irrigation if state regulators give the company permission to advance to the next phase of its water shortage contingency plan.

On Wednesday, amid worsening drought conditions, Cal Water filed an application with the California Public Utilities Commission to transition to the second stage of its plan for the Bakersfield area and five other parts of the state it serves. If the CPUC approves, the new conservation rules will take effect Dec. 14.

As part of that process, the company has scheduled a public meeting on the matter starting at 5:30 p.m. Nov. 9 at the Kaiser Permanente Sports Village Stadium, 9001 Ashe Road.

Customers of the city of Bakersfield's water service would not be affected by Cal Water's move.

Water-use restrictions were put in place in 2015, during the last drought. Even after the drought ended, restrictions remained in place but no penalties were associated with them until summer, when Cal Water moved into the first stage of contingency planning.

Approval of Cal Water's request would double fines for customers watering outdoor landscapes more than two days per week outside the hours of 6 p.m. to 8 a.m., unless local ordinances say otherwise. Addresses ending in an even number would be allowed to irrigate on Wednesdays and Sundays only; those living at an address ending in an odd number would get to water on Tuesdays and Saturdays.

After a first-incident warning, penalties would also double for Cal Water customers who fail to fix leaks, breaks or other irrigation-related problems within five business days of notification by the company. Also, customers would be penalized for hand-washing their vehicles without using a shutoff nozzle or something similar.

Additionally, customers would face stiffer fines for using water on driveways or sidewalks, except for health and safety reasons, and for irrigation during and within two days of measurable rainfall. What's more, restaurants would be penalized for serving water unless customers specifically request it, and hotels and motels would face fines if they fail to give customers the option of doing without daily laundering of towers and linens.

Customers can find a list of prohibited water uses online at https://www.calwater.com/conservation/drought/prohibited-uses-water/.

There would be no mandatory water budgets, which is a step reserved for Cal Water's stage-three response. The last time the company had to mandate water cuts was in 2015.

"Our Bakersfield customers really stepped up during the last drought to reduce their use through, and we are here to help them do so again during this drought," Cal Water spokeswoman Yvonne Kingman said by email Monday.

She noted numerous steps the company has taken since the previous drought, including increasing rebates for water-efficient devices and drip irrigation.

Cal Water has also repaired and upgraded its infrastructure since the last drought to minimize water loss, and it is better able now to identify and correct leaks, among other improvements.

Kingman noted Kern County is experiencing significant cuts to its water supplies due to extreme drought conditions, which she wrote puts greater stress on local groundwater availability.

Information about the drought and links to conservation programs is available online at www.calwater.com/drought.

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