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Sunnyslope Water district has issued no fines to water wasters

Customers' conservation efforts have gone well, so city employees no longer helping with enforcement

Hollister code enforcement employees are no longer being contracted to assist the Sunnyslope County Water District to serve notices to people who violate water restriction mandate levels, according to Don Ridenhour, water district general manager.

“We were doing so well on our conservation efforts, and we’re headed into the winter months, so we’re not doing patrols any longer,” Ridenhour told BenitoLink. “I have a part-time staff member who is helping us with our conservation efforts. If we get complaints we still go out, we send letters, and we have staff members meet with customers to let them know what they can do to save water.”

Ridenhour said that while the district did identify some violators, no one was fined.

“We don’t have any repeat violators,” he said. “People have been very responsible when we notify them. It’s mostly just educating them about what they’re supposed to be doing."

He said the district has continually met and exceeded the state-mandated water reduction levels every month going back to when they started last June. 

“It’s going to be harder for us to meet them during the winter months, but our reductions have been high enough through the summer that even if we don’t meet the mandate for a specific month, collectively, from June through the end of February (the original state mandate), we’ll still far exceed the state’s mandate.”

Ridenhour said the state mandate for Sunnyslope Water District is 28 percent, which is the reduction measured against 2013 usage. He said the district has been averaging a little over 36 percent reduction, and even managed a 40 percent reduction in one month.

Recent news reports have said that  even if the coming El Nino turns out to be comparable to the 1998 deluge, statewide mandates will remain in effect. Ridenhour, though, feels there's a chance that local restrictions might be removed.

“It sounds like they’re (state) going to put some permanent restrictions that will affect customers, but I don’t think that will affect our customers too much,” he said. “How much we have to conserve next summer after a wet winter remains to be seen. If it’s really wet, I don’t see how we can keep the current restrictions. It seems they’d need to lighten up some, but we have to wait until we see what the state wants to do.”

If it’s as wet as the 1998 El Nino, it may not eliminate the drought for some areas, but in some areas of the state it may.

“It isn’t one size fits all in a state the size of California,” Ridenhour said. “This last time they mandated the entire state and that’s difficult for some agencies that have plenty of water. They wanted to achieve 25 percent reduction overall, but some agencies had numbers as low as four percent and some as high as a 36 percent reduction.”

No matter how well local residents conserve, however, Ridenhour said water rates will not go down.

“We didn’t accelerate or raise our rates because of drought,” he said. “Agencies that did that might see their rates go down, but our rates are based on several capital projects that we have to build, as well as our operational costs. We actually have rate increases built in for the next several years that have already been approved.”

The latest project is the $24 million West Hills Water Treatment Plant near Union Road that is being built in partnership with Hollister and San Benito County Water Districts. When it comes online by the end of 2017, it will initially serve Hollister with 4.5 million gallons of treated surface water a day. A future phase of the project may also bring water to Sunnyslope.

“It’s an important project for improving our water quality and bringing softer water to our customers,” Ridenhour said. “We upgraded the water treatment plant on Fairview Road. Most of that water goes to Sunnyslope and some to Hollister.”

Where our water comes from

Federal surface water comes from reservoirs such as Lake Shasta, which is pumped into the Sacramento River. Then, as the water flows into the San Joaquin Delta, it is pumped into the California Aqueduct system. Some is then pumped up into the San Luis Reservoir to be stored for future use. The water is then pumped through a tunnel into Santa Clara and San Benito counties.

“Currently, about 70 percent of our water comes from wells,” Ridenhour said. “We’re in the process of changing that so more will come from surface water for quality reasons. Ground water around here is not the best quality.”

He said as less ground water is used by residents, more will be diverted to agriculture.

“The ground water will remain an important source for us, but we want to be able to blend it  so our customers get better quality,” he said.

Sunnyslope Water District will not be affected by the future construction by Del Webb of nearly 1,100 homes at San Juan Oaks, Ridenhour noted, saying he has been told the project will have its own well and possibly a water treatment plant.

“We’re hopeful it’s going to be a very wet winter so we can get out of this drought and get back to a more normal operation,” he said. “I was hoping I could get through my career without experiencing another drought, but I didn’t get to do that.”

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About:
John Chadwell (John Chadwell)

John Chadwell is an investigative reporter for BenitoLink. He has many years experience as a freelance photojournalist, copywriter, ghostwriter, scriptwriter and novelist. He is a former U.S. Navy Combat Photojournalist and is an award-winning writer who has worked for magazine, newspapers, radio and television. He has a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications from Chapman University and underwent graduate studies at USC Cinema School. John has worked as a script doctor and his own script, God's Club, was released as a motion picture in 2016. He has also written eight novels, ranging from science fiction to true crime that are sold on Amazon. To contact John Chadwell, send an email to: johnchadwell@benitolink.com.

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