Water Use Up Sharply Since End of Drought : Camarillo: The city's consumption has risen as much as 29% since peak conservation efforts in 1990 and 1991, and is near pre-drought levels.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Times staff writer Phil Sneiderman contributed to this report

Despite efforts by city officials to curb water use, consumption by Camarillo residents has risen dramatically since the drought ended in March, a city official said Wednesday.

Water use in Camarillo has increased as much as 29% since the peak of conservation efforts in 1990 and 1991 and is near pre-drought levels, said city water conservation technician Tony Kack.

"People think now there's plenty of water, but it's not an unlimited resource," Kack said. "There is only so much."

In recent months the city has issued hundreds of citations to citizens who violated the city's laws prohibiting water waste. Kack said the increase occurred after the city lifted more stringent restrictions on water use.

"There's a perception that since the drought is over, there is no need to save water."

Water use in Camarillo and other Ventura County cities is still below pre-drought levels, but residents are more likely to use large quantities of water to landscape yards and wash cars, water officials around the county said.

In Ojai, residents and businesses are using about 20% less then pre-drought levels, water officials said, while Port Hueneme and Oxnard are using about 8% less water.

Santa Paula, Fillmore and Moorpark are using about 10% less water than before the drought, down from the 25% to 30% reductions they achieved while conservation measures were in effect, water officials said.

"People are more relaxed in their water use now," Fillmore City Engineer Bert Rapp said. "Their attitude is that the drought is over, so they can use a little more water and it's not going to be a problem."

The city of Ventura is the only city in the county without a voluntary conservation program. City officials, in fact, recently adopted a new rate structure that encourages water use. Even so, residents continue to scrimp on water, using 29% less than they did before conservation efforts began, Ventura utilities manager Pam Cosby said.

Simi Valley officials this month asked residents to conserve voluntarily.

Water use in Simi Valley during April and May was the highest since mandatory water conservation was imposed in early 1990.

In May, Simi Valley residents and businesses used 4.6% more water than before the drought, public works director Ron Coons said. Last December, before the drought ended, residents had cut their water use by 41.4%.

Even at the higher levels, however, Coons said water use by Simi Valley residents is still at or below the levels of other cities in the county.

"We started conserving water much earlier," Coons said. "So our starting point was lower than everyone else."

Per-capita water use in Simi Valley is consistently lower than in Thousand Oaks, which has a comparable climate and similar lot sizes, both of which are factors in water use, said Joe Young, a spokesman for Southern California Water. The company serves parts of Simi Valley and Ojai.

Since Gov. Pete Wilson declared an end to the drought in March, Thousand Oaks has maintained a 20% reduction in water use from pre-conservation levels, down from a 30% reduction during the drought, said Paul Swenson, the city's water conservation coordinator.

A Thousand Oaks ordinance prohibits runoff from landscape watering, requires restaurants to serve water only on request, and restricts lawn-watering to early mornings and late evenings.

Although the Simi Valley City Council in June rescinded a similar law that levied fines for wasting water, city officials said they hoped residents would continue to conserve on a voluntary basis.

"We're pleased with the cooperation residents have shown in the past," Coons said. "We hope they will continue to conserve water."

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