Who’s cracking down on water waste in O.C.? No one, really, as most everyone is conserving — but suffice to say that the far northern reaches of Orange County may harbor more busybodies than the south.
Don’t let your hose leak in La Habra. The city clocked more than 1,600 reported “water waste incidents” in 2022 — approaching three times as many as much larger Anaheim (655) and Santa Ana (624), according to state data.
We’ll note that La Habra is about as big as Newport Beach (which had just 141 water waste reports), and Fountain Valley (45), and Tustin (72).
Exhibit similar caution in Brea. It clocked nearly 1,200 water waste reports.
Together, La Habra and Brea — accounting for less than 4% of O.C.’s population — accounted for close to half the total 6,463 water waste reports received by O.C.’s 29 city water departments and independent water districts through September. But for all that sturm and drang, those two cities issued zero penalties to the alleged legions of water wasters.
Only five penalties have been issued in O.C. so far this year: three by Newport Beach, and one by Huntington Beach and one by Mesa Water District. Officials prefer to use education over castigation, they told us.
Mesa — with its straw stuck deep into two groundwater aquifers thanks to big infrastructure investments — doesn’t have a water shortage, but had to comply with emergency regulations nonetheless. Starting in June, customers were required to repair or turn off systems with leaks, breaks or other malfunctions within 72 hours of being notified that there was a problem, unless other arrangements were made with the district.
“Mesa Water believes our customers are doing a tremendous job complying with the outdoor watering restrictions, so there is typically no need to issue fines,” spokesperson Celeste Carrillo. “However, one penalty was issued to a commercial customer that delayed repairing a water leak.”
In nearby Newport Beach, officials are emphasizing education over enforcement, “and so far that’s produced good results for Newport Beach,” said spokesman John Pope.
And Buena Park focuses on voluntary compliance. “When we respond to reports of water waste, our primary interest is to identify the source of the waste and, if possible, to meet with the owner/resident and educate them about what is occurring and get their agreement to change behavior, or to repair anything that is not working correctly and causing the water waste,” said Doug Brodowski, operations manager in the public works department.
“We would resort to citation/fine if the person is not cooperative. We rarely (have) overt noncompliance.”
Though most agencies fell short of the governor’s 15% savings goal, most made respectable progress when you look at month-to-month comparisons two years apart. Some clocked stunning savings.
Overall, Orange County’s average savings was 11% this September over September 2020 (after adjusting for an error in some state-reported data). That’s better than Riverside County’s average (10%), but not as good as Los Angeles County (13.4%) or San Bernardino County (14%).
The local “wow!” awards, however, go to the city of Orange, which came close to cutting water use in half, and Mesa Water, where use was down 33%.
Kudos also to Seal Beach and La Palma for exceeding the governor’s goal, saving 17.4% and 16.6% respectively. Newport Beach and Laguna Beach County Water District came squeaky close, saving 14.8% each.
How? “We are confident that some of the September savings for Newport Beach has to do with our rollout and promotion of AquaTrax, which is a water use data dashboard customers can access through a web portal,” Pope said. “The dashboard, which we launched in September, allows customers to see daily and monthly use, comparisons with similar households, and also alerts customers to leaks and spikes in use.”
It’s on the city website and serves residential and business customers. “We tried to make it as easy as possible … to access the portal by having a single sign-on that corresponds to their bill pay, so if someone has set up electronic bill pay (which is the majority) they can get into AquaTrax that way.”
But before we slap ourselves on the back so hard we fall over, Orange County is decidedly “meh” on the big picture front.
Looking at cumulative water savings over two years — as opposed to a single month, two years apart — Orange County trails the surrounding counties.
Water use here shrank about 2.5% over that long stretch, while it shrank 2.8% in Riverside County and 4.5% in both Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties.
Some agencies actually are using more water. Overall use rose between 1.5% and 3.6% in San Juan Capistrano, the East Orange County Water District, Irvine Ranch Water District, San Clemente, Anaheim and Brea.
Anaheim points to the reopening of Disney and industry after pandemic shutdowns to explain the rise there, while Irvine Ranch has protested that the data as reported by the state don’t give a full picture of what’s really going on. Irvine Ranch’s water production has increased since 2020 due to growth in the service area, while per capita use has decreased some 12%, it has said.
The Municipal Water District of Orange County — which imports water from Metropolitan, which imports it from afar — noted that weather plays a role here as well. Data from NOAA’s Santa Ana weather station show that 2022 has been a very dry year to-date, with less than 2 inches of rain. By September 2020, there had been 6 inches of rain.
“It’s also important to note that consumption has never gone back to the way it was prior to conservation mandates that came down back in 2015,” said MWDOC spokesman Damon Micalizzi.
MWDOC has also added a “water loss control” program that includes leak detection services. Distribution system leakage is much greater than people realize, he said, and it does some 1,200 miles of leak detection per year for some dozen water agencies.
It’s getting hot, we’re getting into the wet(ter) season, and we had a great soaking earlier in the month — but we’re still stuck in a multi-year drought, Anaheim’s Erin Ryan said.
“Every little bit helps, and we continue to encourage residents to be smart. We’re starting to see that come to fruition,” she said.
So keep the outdoor watering to a minimum, shut off the sprinklers when it’s raining, avoid washing your car in the driveway and don’t let the hoses leak — especially if you live up north.
Source: Orange County Register