Under pressure, Beverly Hills may fine water wasters $1,000

Beverly Hills officials are studying several plans to cut water use, including fines of up to $1,000

Under increasing pressure to slash water use during California's ongoing drought, Beverly Hills is preparing to toughen watering rules and could decide to ban the refilling of pools and set fines as high as $1,000 for water wasters.

The city that symbolizes Southern California luxury has come under fire in recent weeks as one of the state's most profligate water users. State regulators have warned that it will face heavy fines if it does not cut its water consumption by 36% over the next year.

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Beverly Hills is just one of 94 water suppliers instructed by the State Water Resources Control Board to undertake such a major reduction.

The city has been in the second stage of its emergency water conservation plan — aiming to reduce consumption by 10% through voluntary measures such as reduced lawn watering. City officials said their goal was to educate rather than penalize heavy water users.

But on Tuesday, the City Council plans to discuss three proposed sets of tighter restrictions, which have been summarized in a report developed by city staff.

The city's public works commission is recommending the most stringent proposal, to move to the fourth stage of the emergency plan. It calls for water fountains to be turned off and bans refilling swimming pools, spas and ponds except when necessary for reasons of health.

Under this proposal, the city manager would determine when residents and businesses could water their landscapes. Those who violated water-use rules could be charged with misdemeanors and face fines of up to $1,000 if convicted.

The recommended plan would calculate fines according to violators' levels of water conservation. If customers failed to reduce their water use by the amount the city set, they could face surcharges on their water bills up to 10 times the water rate.

City Council members will also consider a less drastic option of going to stage three of the emergency plan, which calls for customers to cut water use by 20% and limit outdoor watering to two days a week. Penalties under this proposal would be lighter.

The third proposal, a hybrid, would require customers to make 30% cuts, but would not impose penalties based on usage. Under this plan, customers would be barred from washing buildings and cars, and fines for convicted violators could still reach $1,000.

Officials have cautioned that the 36% conservation benchmark for Beverly Hills and other communities could be revised before state regulators formally adopt the emergency water plan in early May.


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