BWP to Tighten Water Restrictions

(Photo by Christian Leonard / Burbank Leader) - Burbank Water and Power will soon reduce the number of days a week residents can irrigate landscape, though attended hand watering will be exempt from most restrictions.

First published in the June 18 print issue of the Burbank Leader.

Burbank Water and Power officials will issue stricter sprinkler restrictions near the end of this month after the city, like many across the state, failed to reach its water-use reduction goals.

The more severe restrictions, described in stage three of Burbank’s sustainable water-use ordinance, will limit outdoor watering from three days a week to two days a week, on Tuesdays and Saturdays, starting June 27.

Watering between November and March will remain isolated to Saturdays. The current rule restricting watering to 15 minutes per irrigation station and prohibiting it between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. will also stay. Swimming pools will need to remain covered when not in use.

Residents will still be able to water by hand for longer than 15 minutes and on any day of the week, though residents must refrain from doing so between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. Low-volume irrigation can run for longer than 15 minutes, but is limited to the specified watering days and times.

BWP officials also said that while they will emphasize educating residents about the drought and the need for conservation efforts, they will begin issuing administration fines, starting at $100, for offenses committed after multiple warnings.

Burbank went to stage two of its water conservation ordinance in late 2021 in response to an intensifying drought, which CBS News reported could be California’s worst in 1,200 years. At the time, BWP officials warned that restrictions would tighten if residents didn’t meet Gov. Gavin Newsom’s statewide 15% water-use reduction goal, which compares current usage to 2020 levels.

Burbank decreased its cumulative water usage by about 3.2% between July 2020 and March 2022 compared to the amount used in 2020, a slightly better figure than reported countywide.

However, recent months’ savings have varied. In March 2022, Burbank’s number of gallons of water used per capita per day was 22.1% higher than in March 2020, while in May, it was 5.7% lower than during the same month in 2020.

Richard Wilson, BWP’s assistant general manager of water systems, attributed the increased water usage in some months to low amounts of rain and hotter average temperatures.

“The approach that we have to take this time is a lot different,” Wilson said. “The last time it was, ‘Let’s get through this drought.’ Now we have to take, really, a long-term approach. And that’s really going to mean changing the way people think and feel about water.”

California has broadly fallen short of Newsom’s goal, which didn’t come with an enforcement mechanism. The State Water Resources Control Board said in May that urban water use across California increased by nearly 19% between March 2020 and March 2022.

The state’s cumulative water savings since July 2021, when Newsom issued the conservation goal, was just 3.7%, the board added.
Burbank doesn’t have any water rights to the rain that falls on its land, Wilson said, meaning it must purchase its water from sources that have announced increasingly frugal distributions due to the drought.

If Burbank, like the rest of the state, doesn’t curb its water usage, he warned that BWP will have to raise rates even more than anticipated.

The utility will also need to encourage owners of homes and businesses to improve their water conservation, officials said, whether through installing water-efficient systems or helping residents replace yards with drought-tolerant landscaping.

But Jeannine Edwards, BWP’s assistant general manager of sustainability, marketing and strategy, noted that many residents already slashed their water use in response to the previous drought.

“The general marketing of ‘conserve water’ doesn’t really resonate and almost feels offensive to some folks, because they’re like, ‘I’ve already done my part. What about everybody else?’” Edwards said.

BWP officials said their monitoring system will distinguish between residents who are saving water and those who are not, and that it is even able to gauge how long sprinklers are running. Focusing on homeowners is crucial, they added. About 80% of the utility’s customers are residential, according to statistics provided by the utility, and 66% of residential customers are single-family homes. Wilson added that new housing developments will be highly water efficient compared to most single-family residences and will use recycled water for irrigation.

Edwards said BWP will also feature residents who taking major steps to reduce water use, such as through utility-subsidized turf replacement, to encourage others to do the same.

But she and BWP marketing associate Tracie Neiswonger acknowledged that many residents want to keep their green lawns and might feel overwhelmed by the prospect of decreasing water usage.

“I think the biggest thing is, when you’re not sure where to start, you may not start,” Neiswonger said.

Edwards added that just changing out a portion of a lawn to drought-resistant plants would improve citywide conservation. BWP is also planning to relaunch a grant program that gives $15,000 to community organizations that want to build demonstration gardens or other spaces dedicated to water sustainability.

Officials are looking to boost drought awareness with banners and signs at businesses and other areas.

Still, investing in long-term sustainability will require millions of dollars in new infrastructure and systems, such as recycled-water programs — and, therefore, higher water rates.

Some of those initiatives, Wilson said, will be local, while the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California will implement others, passing on its costs to member agencies such as the BWP.

The Burbank City Council already approved higher utility rates that will start in July, and BWP is planning to request more in future years, though Wilson emphasized that its rates are the lowest in the region.

But with water becoming more expensive, he added, running the tap isn’t going to be available at the same price.

“Nobody wants to have to pay more for anything,” Wilson said, “but if water needs to be more scarce, and we need to invest more to increase our supply, that’s not free. People are either going to have to live with more scarce supplies, or they will have to invest and make sure we have the same reliability.”

Edwards said she doesn’t want to underplay the amount of effort meeting conservation goals will take for both residents and BWP itself, and said the utility may have to adjust its strategy as it moves forward. However, she also believes the Burbank community values sustainability.

“There’s a lot going on in the world right now,” Edwards said. “It’s hard to keep up with the latest crisis. … But this is something we have to talk about.”