Fines for water-use violations in Rancho Santa Fe, Solana Beach suspended for 45 days


The Santa Fe Irrigation District has decided not to fine its customers for violating water-use restrictions for the next 45 days, and also relaxed some of the mandatory water-saving rules put in place in May as a response to the ongoing California drought.

The suspension of fines — which were increased in May as part of the district’s effort to encourage water conservation — will allow officials time to establish clear and fair procedures for carrying out the water-use cutbacks demanded by Gov. Jerry Brown, said Santa Fe’s general manager Michael Bardin.

Over the past few months, a flurry of new rules and regulations has been developed at both the state and local level, and the district needs time to properly put those rules into effect.

“We’re trying to fix the car while we’re driving down the highway at 100 miles per hour,” Bardin said at the Thursday, July 16, meeting of the Santa Fe district’s board of directors.

Santa Fe’s five-member board unanimously approved Bardin’s proposal to suspend the fines for up to 45 days, meaning the district won’t be assessing penalties for violations of water-use restrictions until about the beginning of September.

“Let’s take the time to do this right,” said director Greg Gruzdowich.

Under the fine structure approved by the board in May, first-time violators will receive a warning letter. A second violation within a 12-month period carries a $250 fine, which goes up to $500 for a third violation and $1,000 for a fourth violation. On Thursday, the board decided not to adopt a potential fine of up to $10,000 for a fifth violation within one year, which is allowed by state legislation passed in June. The district could also install a flow restrictor or cut off water service for chronic violators.

During the suspension period, district staff will continue to tag residences where violations, such as watering on prohibited days or leaky irrigation systems, are observed, said district spokeswoman Jessica Parks.

The board also made changes Thursday to the water-use restrictions under its Level 3 drought response plan, which was also enacted in May along with water “allocations,” which give each household and business a monthly water allowance. Using more than the allotment will result in penalties, which will begin to show up on customers’ bills in September.

While district customers are required to water no more than twice a week on proscribed days and times with automatic sprinkler systems, the board decided that watering with a bucket or hand-held hose will be allowed at any time.

A prohibition against washing cars in customers’ driveways was also lifted by the board on Thursday. For a full list of the Level 3 water use restrictions, visit the district’s web site at The district serves about 19,400 residents of Rancho Santa Fe, Solana Beach and Fairbanks Ranch.

Board members and the public — in emails to the district — objected to the hand-watering restrictions, noting that customers must already abide by their allocations, which limit their total water use.

“Why don’t we just eliminate Level 3 (restrictions) and only have allocations?” said director Alan Smerican. “What am I missing here?”

“Why do we have to get so involved with everybody’s life?” said Gruzdowich.

John Payne of Fairbanks Ranch expressed similar sentiments in an email to the district.

“Isn’t the bottom line compliance with the overall water reduction mandate? Why should you care or interfere with the way someone wants to use water as long as they are in compliance overall?” Payne wrote.

“Residents of the Santa Fe Irrigation District: Fly commercial jets with hundreds of passengers, perform life saving operations, manage billions of dollars of client investments, employ tens of thousands of employees. Please trust us to use a hose!” wrote Eddie Hillard.

The district can’t do away with all the specific water-use restrictions, because some are required by the state or local agencies such as the County Water Authority, said Paula de Sousa, the district’s general counsel.

And board president Michael Hogan said he doesn’t believe allocations alone will allow the district to meet its state mandated target of reducing water demand by 36 percent from 2013 levels. Fines of up to $10,000 per day can be assessed against water districts that don’t meet their targets.

The water-use restrictions have been developed on a regional basis by the County Water Authority and its member agencies, Hogan said.

“Now we’re saying forget about the regional plan, let’s do what we want to do,” Hogan said.

He also pointed to recent trends in water use by district customers. Although water use actually increased several months after voluntary restrictions were imposed last fall, district customers reduced consumption by 42 percent in May, and by 37 percent in June, meeting the state’s target that took effect June 1.

“Look at the results. The actions we’ve taken are paying off,” Hogan said.