Rancho Santa Fe and Solana Beach water district set to resume citations, fines for water-use violations

The Santa Fe Irrigation District will resume citing and fining customers for violating mandatory water-use restrictions on Aug. 31, after coming up with updated citation forms, appeals procedures and methods of tracking violations.

The district adopted the mandatory water-use restrictions — including a twice-per-week limit on outdoor landscape watering — earlier this year, when the state ordered it to cut its water use by 36 percent in response to the ongoing drought.

Under the district’s rules, first-time violators will receive a warning letter, while successive additional violations within a one-year period will result in fines of $250, $500 and $1,000. Among the most common violations are watering on prohibited days, or irrigation runoff from leaking or improperly adjusted sprinklers.

Last month, the district temporarily stopped issuing citations while the new procedures were developed. The planned resumption of citations and fines was reported at the district’s board of directors meeting on Aug. 20.

A number of drought-related topics were discussed at the meeting, including a proposal by district staff to increase the administrative fee to $100 from the current $50 for customers who request a variance from the district’s water-use restrictions or monthly water allocations.

However, the board decided to keep the variance fee at $50, and it also declined to impose a $250 fee for those seeking an agricultural exemption from the new water allocation policy, which allows each customer a set amount of water for indoor use, while requiring steep cuts in outdoor watering.

Several members of the public also urged the board to fight the state’s mandated water-use cutbacks, in court if necessary.

Don Billings, a resident of Solana Beach, told the board that its action to institute strict water-use restrictions and accompanying fines “is based on an illegal order from Sacramento.”

At a number of recent public meetings and in interviews, Billings has contended that because San Diego County does not face a water shortage this year, it should not have to comply with the steep cuts ordered by Gov. Jerry Brown and state water officials.

Instead, said Billings, Santa Fe should repeal its restrictions and file a lawsuit against the state, as the city of Riverside has done.

Catherine Dickerson, also a Solana Beach resident who has launched a website,, challenging the state-required cutbacks, told the board, “The governor has essentially spit in your faces and our faces. He is leading us down a path of miserable deprivation.”

Santa Fe board president Michael Hogan said the board discussed potential litigation against the state over the mandated water cuts during a closed session following Thursday’s public meeting. The board did not take action, he said, preferring instead to work with the San Diego County Water Authority, which is seeking a relaxation of the required cutbacks on an administrative level with state officials.

Local water officials were heartened by comments from Brown during a visit to San Diego earlier this month, when he said that the state’s mandatory cutbacks would likely be modified in February after the initial emergency order expires.

San Diego County officials, and members of the public such as Billings and Dickerson, argue that the region should not face the same magnitude of cutbacks as other parts of the state, since it has invested heavily in water reliability projects such as the soon-to-open Carlsbad desalination plant, lining canals in Imperial County to prevent leakage, and improvements to the county’s reservoir system.

Hogan agreed with Billings and Dickerson that San Diego County does not face a water shortage this year; the County Water Authority has stated that it can meet 99 percent of demand for the coming year, even if its key supplier, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, cuts deliveries by 15 percent.

But that is possible only by drawing down reserve supplies, Hogan said. If the forecast El Niño weather condition fails to materialize, bringing rain to the state this winter, Hogan said, more severe cuts could be needed next year, especially if conservation efforts are not stepped up now.

“If hope was a strategy, you could rely on El Niño, but you just can’t do that in a boardroom,” Hogan said.

Santa Fe officials are banking on the County Water Authority persuading state regulators to grant relief to the region in the form of reduced water-use cuts. But if not, he said, “any kind of (legal) action that could be taken against the state, would be best served if taken by the region, rather than one small agency like Santa Fe.”

Hogan and his fellow Santa Fe board members are also sympathetic to the contention by some San Diego County residents that the state’s steep mandatory cuts are unfair in light of the region’s water-related investments.

The water authority has a drought response plan to allocate water to member agencies which entails much lower cuts, Hogan said. Instead, the state ordered steep reductions in water use that “completely blow up the regional approach to managing our water supplies.”