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Vagim presses City Hall over latest water moves, transparency

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Vagim presses City Hall over latest water moves, transparency

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Doug Vagim once again is shining a light on the complexity of water regulation in Fresno.

His point this time: An inflexible one-size-fits-all limit on hourly water consumption is unfair.

The former Fresno County supervisor last month sent an email to city officials regarding a proposal to amend the municipal code. I wrote about the proposal for CVObserver on July 7.

It’s enough here to note that the reforms would further City Hall efforts to conserve water. The reforms were listed in what’s called an Environmental Assessment, or “EA.” The public had until late July to send their formal thoughts to city officials.

You’ll get to read Vagim’s email in a bit. First, some context.

Fresno single-family residences for the longest time didn’t have water meters. That changed in the early 21st century for a variety of reasons. The meters are connected to computers at City Hall. When it comes to our water-consumption habits, the computers tell all.

Outdoor irrigation – watering the lawn, usually in suburbia – is a major source of water consumption in Fresno. It’s one thing within an hour to start a load of wash, turn on the dishwasher, take a shower and boil a couple of eggs. It’s something entirely different within an hour to have the automatic sprinklers do their duty on a large front lawn and a large back lawn. The former consumes a fair amount of water. The latter can consume a huge amount of water.

The city has strict rules on outdoor irrigation. Depending on the season and the availability of river water, you can irrigate only at certain times during certain days of the week.

Don’t forget – those computers at City Hall tell all. It’s a red flag to city officials if you’re using hundreds of gallons of water per hour at the wrong time of the right day or at any point on the wrong day. Hardly anybody boils that many eggs in 60 minutes.

Sooner or later, a ticket-writing water monitor from City Hall will make a visit to your house. It’s a violation if the monitor proves you’ve been watering the lawn – outdoor irrigation – when you’re not supposed to.

The new water rules would make it a violation if the ratepayer in a single-family home uses more than 300 gallons of water in a single hour on the wrong day of the watering schedule or at the wrong time on the right day of the watering schedule, whether it’s for outdoor or indoor use.

You might say: What’s the big deal? Wasting water from indoor use is just as bad as wasting water from outdoor use.

Vagim found a flaw in the proposal.

Vagim wrote: “The proposed rule or regulation as outlined in EA 07-014 creates a violation when a water meter on a single family home reads more than 300 gallons of water usage within one (1) hour during the periods where outdoor watering is not permitted, regardless if it’s outdoor or indoor use.

“The city currently does not regulate indoor water use, except where it’s found that it is being wasted by neglect or otherwise.

“Currently there are indoor systems that rely on water for heat transfer for its proper operation in the home, i.e. house air conditioning (A/C) units to name one, and are allowed to operate as being grandfathered in the FMC (Fresno Municipal Code).

“While these systems are no longer allowed in new development these existing systems depend on water to operate and may require more than the 300 gallon p/hour limit set by this proposed amendment to the FMC.

“If the FMC is amended to put the ratepayer in violation simply from the City’s water meter electronic data reading from the home, it will create a hardship on those who have current allowed systems under the FMC that depend on water consumption exceeding the 300 gallon p/hr limit during operation….

“Some text should be added to the proposed regulation taking into consideration these current allowed and grandfathered systems that use more than the proposed 300 gallon p/hour limit.

“This over-the-limit water need is primarily a summer time requirement for the home’s A/C, so perhaps the suggested modification could be narrowed to provide this exemption, to the (not greater than 300 gallons p/hr rule) during the hot season in order that these older systems may operate without violation.

“However, there may be other units or systems that fall under the same circumstance as older A/C systems and I do not know what you may find currently installed in the homes within the Fresno City Water Service Area.

“Thank you for allowing my comments on EA 07-014.”

Vagim added a thought on a related topic: “Additionally, it would be nice if the ratepayer had a way to know just how much water is being consumed in real time, just like the city is able to know via the meters embedded electronic telemetry. It would be a big help to the ratepayers, allowing them to manage their water consumption and stay under the 300 gallon p/hr limit also it would provide them an overall water use conservation tool from the very first gallon.”

Vagim on Friday told me he had received an excellent email response from Public Utilities Director Tommy Esqueda. Vagim said the essence of Esqueda’s reply was: 1.) Good catch about the water-cooled A/C. The city issues a warning, not a fine, for the first questionable water-consumption event (or violation). The ratepayer with a water-cooled A/C at this point in the process can explain to city officials why the level of water consumption was legitimate. This explanation, if it passes muster, will be noted on the ratepayer’s account. 2.) City Hall is currently testing a system that will enable ratepayers to routinely monitor their water consumption via the Internet. The system could be headed to the City Council for a formal hearing in about three months.

As you may recall, Vagim was the central figure (from the non-City Hall side) in the long and sometimes bitter debate over Recharge Fresno’s water rates. He took a lot of heat from a lot of powerful city and state officials. He often stood alone. In the end, he helped improve the final product.

Vagim wasn’t against conservation. He’s spent much of his professional life in pursuit of good public policy.

Vagim simply wanted to make sure government was playing fair with the People’s water and money.

Fortunately for us, he’s still at it.

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George Hostetter

George Hostetter is a contributor to CVObserver and advisor to The Collegian, the student newspaper of Fresno State.

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