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San Diego's Mandatory Water Restrictions Rely On Community Policing

Julie Colman looks on as Victor Sandoval, a San Diego public utilities field representative, measures the flow of her kitchen faucet during a residential survey on Thursday, Nov. 20, 2014.
Katie Schoolov
Julie Colman looks on as Victor Sandoval, a San Diego public utilities field representative, measures the flow of her kitchen faucet during a residential survey on Thursday, Nov. 20, 2014.
San Diego's New Water Restrictions Rely on Community Policing

At the beginning of November, San Diego adopted mandatory water restrictions, including limits on when sprinklers can run and when plants can be watered. But the city has not yet hired staff to enforce its new rules.

Luis Generoso, the city's water resources manager, said right now the city does not have staff out proactively looking for people violating water restrictions. He said when public utilities department staff recommended the city enact mandatory water rules in October, they said they needed seven employees to enforce water restrictions, including four field representatives to talk to property owners.

But those staff have not been hired yet.

Mandatory Water Restrictions

• Watering lawns three days a week, and limited to seven minutes per station in November through May.

• Residences with odd-numbered addresses can water on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.

• Residences with even-numbered addresses can water on Saturdays, Mondays and Wednesdays.

• Apartments, condominiums and businesses can water on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

• Must use hoses with shut-off nozzles or timed-sprinkler systems to provide water to landscaped areas.

• Wash vehicles only before 10 a.m. or after 4 p.m. in November through May.

• Water potted plants, vegetable gardens and fruit trees before 10 a.m. or after 4 p.m.

• No watering lawns or plants on rainy days.

• Ornamental fountains must be turned off except for repairs.

2014 Water Waste Complaints

July: 250

August: 334

September: 302

October: 831

"I'm hoping (they'll be hired) soon," Generoso said. "I'm still hoping we can have live bodies here by middle of December."

When the City Council approved the water restrictions, it didn't include any money for hiring extra staff. So Generoso said his department has to wait for vacancies to open up that it can fill temporarily with field representatives, who make about $32,400 a year.

"When we said that we are not going to increase our position count in our budget, that meant that for us to be able to hire these people, we would have to look for existing positions that are vacant and then try to convert those, take over those positions and use them for limited field reps up until they're no longer needed," he said. "So in essence, if we had a vacancy that is not a critical fill vacancy, that maybe those could be used for this temporary position."

In the meantime, the city mostly relies on residents to report people breaking water rules. Reports can be made over the phone, by email and by using the city's Waste No Water mobile app.

Violators get a letter telling them to stop, but the city also doesn't have staff following up to see if the letter worked, Generoso said.

"It's hard to go back to each and every one of them and then be proactive about new complaints coming in, so we rely on the community to help us make sure that water waste does not occur," he said.

If a resident reports a violation and then reports it still exists two weeks later, the city has three employees who can call or go out to the property and explain the new rules, he said. If even that doesn't work, the property owner will get a letter from the city's code enforcement unit giving another 10 days to fix the problem. If it's still not fixed, the owner will get a fine of $100, $250, or $500, Generoso said.

"Our goal is to get the correct action, not so much enforce or fine people," he said.

The city also uses its water meter readers and Retired Senior Volunteer Patrol to report problems. RSVP reports in the same way as any other resident, by making a call, sending an email or using the Waste No Water app.

The city does provide a different form of face-to-face interaction with property owners about their water use: residential surveys. Generoso said the city gets 150 requests a month and has a three-week waiting list for these surveys, which assess the amount of water used by the toilets, showers, faucets and sprinklers on a property. The city has two field representatives who conduct residential surveys, plus two other employees who conduct larger landscape surveys.

Victor Sandoval is one of the field representatives, and he visits four homes a day, five days a week. On a warm November afternoon, he knocked on the door of the Pacific Beach home of Julie and Mike Colman.

Schedule a Water Survey

To schedule a water survey, call the San Diego Water Conservation Hotline at (619) 570-1999 or email

He checked their water meter and found they were using 847 gallons a day, which he said is high for a family of four.

"So we'll say two adults, we'll put you guys at 60 gallons a day, just adults," he said. "Put another 40 gallons for the kids, so we're looking at about 200 gallons. The other 600 gallons are probably going to be outside."

"My lawn doesn't look like 600!" Julie Colman said.

"I know, I know," Sandoval said.

He then checked their faucets and showers and put blue dye in their toilets to see if they were leaking.

Finally, he checked their sprinklers and found that while they were only scheduled to run three days a week, they were on for longer than the seven minutes dictated by the new water restrictions.

Sandoval ran each set of sprinklers one by one. When he found one sprinkler on the side of the Colmans' home was leaking water, he shouted excitedly, "Houston, we have trouble! We have a broken head over here."

At the end of the hour-long survey, Sandoval presented the Colmans with his assessment. They had no toilet leaks but could replace many of their sprinklers to cut back on water use.

In 2009, the last time the city had mandatory water restrictions, Generoso said they had the staff to go out and proactively look for water rule breakers. This time, they have to wait for complaints to come to them. That, and hope more people are like the Colmans, who took it upon themselves to request Sandoval check their home's water use.

What questions do you have about the Statewide General Election coming up on Nov. 8? Submit your questions here, and we'll try to answer them in our reporting.