The Bakersfield City Council adopted an emergency water ordinance at a public hearing last night that restricts the use of water for lawns and landscaping. The effective date of the ordinance (the date the new restrictions become applicable) is today. Residents who violate the new restrictions will be subject to misdemeanors and/or monetary penalties.
The measure was adopted in response to California’s historic drought and emergency measures announced and/or proposed by Governor Jerry Brown and the California Water Resources Control Board.
Several people on social media sites have commented that they had no prior knowledge of the proposal and were surprised to find out that the ordinance was adopted with an effective date of today. As of yet, there has been no outreach by the City of Bakersfield to those affected to let them know that the new rule was about to be adopted on such short notice.
According to city Water Resources Department staff, no advance notice was given because of the “emergency” nature of the ordinance. Officials envision issuing bill inserts, producing Public Service Announcements (PSAs), and adopting a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) section on their website to help affected parties to better understand their new obligations.
The new ordinance applies to anyone who uses potable water for irrigation purposes. Some of the requirements only apply to the irrigation of ornamental landscapes or turf. Other restrictions apply to everyone while some are specific to commercial, industrial, and institutional properties.
For example, watering of lawns and shrubbery may now only be done on specific days and property owners are “advised” to do so between 6 p.m. to 9 a.m
The daily limits depend upon the address of the property. Even numbered addresses may only water on Sundays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Odd numbered addresses are limited to Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.No irrigation is allowed on Mondays.
Property owners who choose to irrigate at different hours of the day may be asked to justify why this is so, but, as stated in the ordinance, the hourly limits are only advisory. This was confirmed with city water staff.
However, a close review of the remaining language raises several questions. As written, some of the prohibitions may be impossible to meet and enforcement may depend upon the judgement of compliance staff as to the egregiousness and/or recurring nature of the violations. For example, the ordinance prohibits any irrigation water from flowing onto adjacent property, non-irrigated areas, sidewalks, curbs, or gutters. This could be particularly problematic for homeowners with hillside or sloping lawns or those whose automatic sprinklers happen to turn on when the wind is blowing.
When questioned about this, city water staff agreed and understood but also pointed out that this provision already exists in the Bakersfield Municipal code and has for several years.
The daily and hourly restrictions appear to apply to homeowners, golf courses, parks, public property, and other landscaped areas, but, there are questions as to whether home vegetable gardens or even businesses that sell potted plants for transplant must also comply. For example, Home Depot, Lowes, and similar businesses often have outdoor displays of plants for sale on sidewalks next to parking lots. Would the spillage of water onto such sidewalks constitute a violation of the ordinance or not? City water staff were uncertain at this time.
Bakersfield residents have differing opinions about the new ordinance and what it means to them. Darren Bly said that, “I water twice a week anyway…..it won’t bother me at all. My house is 6 ft. above the street. My lawn slopes on two sides. I live in a desert and have always been very careful how and when I water. Never had a big issue with over spray.”
Others, who wished to remain nameless, were concerned that they were being asked to do something which the city itself has often not been able to do. Some have complained about seeing water in the gutters around town from broken city water lines or over watering of city landscapes. Sometimes, they complained, the water has leaked for days before the problems were fixed.
In any event, Bakersfield residents and property owners now have a new set of rules to follow immediately in order to address water shortages caused by the drought and measures proposed by Governor Brown and the California Water Resources Control Board. For further information, city water staff may be contacted at 661.326.4805.