Conservation or litigation? (December 28, 2015)

Hesperia mayor defiant as city misses state reduction target

HESPERIA — The city has failed to meet its water conservation standard every month since statewide conservation tracking began in June, according to data provided by the State Water Resources Control Board.

And while the city’s plan to reduce outdoor use is among the most lenient in the High Desert, Mayor Bill Holland said the standards put in place following Gov. Jerry Brown’s April 1 executive order are unfair because previous conservation was not considered.

Moreover, Holland told the Daily Press that Hesperia’s conservation standard of 32 percent is an unrealistic number and he said a lawsuit could be the potential outcome if the state issues a fine for the city’s lack of conservation between June 2015 and February 2016.

It’s a reality stand, Holland responded when asked if the city was making a political stand against the Brown’s mandate. (The conservation standards) had no basis in reality. The state refused to look at the conservation that was done prior to the mandate. We’ve had remarkable long-term conservation.

As for conservation following Brown’s mandate, SWRCB statistics show that Hesperia came closest to meeting its standard in July when residents reduced water consumption by more than 28 percent as compared to water use in 2013.

Between June and October, Hesperia achieved cumulative savings of 23.4 percent, which positions the city 8.6 percentage points below its standard.

It’s unlikely that Hesperia will conserve enough water through February to meet the cumulative standard of 32 percent because the mandate was geared heavily toward reducing outdoor use and opportunity for those reductions dwindle in the winter months, according to the water board.

Hesperia has limited outdoor watering to five days per week amid the ongoing drought. Only the Phelan Pinon Hills Community Services District has been more lenient as residents in those communities can currently water outside seven days per week.

None of us on the Council felt it was fair to punish the citizens based on a mandate that is unfair, Holland said with regard to the city’s leniency.

Barstow residents face the strictest regulations in the High Desert; Golden State Water Co. has limited outdoor irrigation to one day per week, according to Golden State’s Water Resources Manager and Chief Hydrologist Toby Moore.

Apple Valley and Victorville residents are limited to three days per week while Adelanto residents are limited to two.

Outdoor restrictions were most crucial, however, in the summer months as noted by Apple Valley Ranchos Water Co.’s November decision to revert to Stage One of its drought contingency plan following above-average conservation among the town’s residents between June and an unseasonably warm October that put Ranchos in a position of exceeding its cumulative standard of 28 percent.

Not every entity has been as successful as Ranchos, however.

Three cities and one water district were each fined $61,000 in October for not meeting the state’s conservation standards. Of those four entities, Beverly Hills paid the fine; Indio, Redlands and the Coachella Valley Water District all asked for hearings, according to SWRCB spokesman George Kostyrko.

Kostyrko told the Daily Press via email that the SWRCB elected to issue financial penalties rather than conservation orders to the four suppliers for three reasons.

First, he said, these suppliers were the furthest from the conservation target based on percentage and volume of water that haven’t been issued a conservation order. Second, they have greater capacity to run robust conservation programs, and third, they would experience little benefit from a conservation order that would be in effect from November through February.

As for the requested hearings, Water Conservation Program Coordinator for the Indio Water Authority Scott Trujillo told the Daily Press he was informed by Redlands and CVWD staff that the SWRCB allowed those entities 30 days to come up with a new plan for conservation and instructed them to put the $61,000 toward those plans rather than pay the issued fines.

Given the criteria laid out by Kostyrko, it’s doubtful Hesperia is in danger of incurring a similar fine; Holland also said he is not worried about getting a fine.

But if Hesperia were to receive a fine for subpar conservation efforts, Holland said a lawsuit might be in order.

I refuse to accept that we’ve missed the standard when the standard is erroneous in the first place, Holland said. I don’t believe we’ve missed anything. If they would have taken into consideration aggregate numbers and applied them to the new conservation number, our need to conserve would have probably been in the low double digits — 10 to 12 percent. If it gets to that point maybe there will be lawsuits.

Hesperia City Attorney Eric Dunn declined to go on record when asked if litigation would prove costlier than a $61,000 fine; Dunn did say, however, that he did not have an idea of what litigation might cost.

And while Holland remained defiant when discussing the state’s conservation standards — calling them outrageous — he reiterated that his position was based on the reality of the situation.

This is not a political statement, Holland said. It’s not as if the City of Hesperia has thumbed its nose at the state. If you want to put a 30 percent number, put it across the board. Also, make that number the same for (the) agricultural and environmental (entities). Do it across the state with no one exempt. Then — and only then — will they have a leg to stand on when it comes to fines.

Source: Matthew Cabe, Daily Press