Cut back or pay: Water conservation to be mandatory in South Bay after CA approves new restrictions

San Jose Water Company's plan received approval by state regulators, meaning cutting back on water use is no longer voluntary.

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Friday, November 19, 2021
Water conservation to be mandatory in many South Bay cities
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San Jose Water Company was given state approval to implement mandatory water conservation, some of the toughest restrictions in California.

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- Despite recent rain, California is still in the depths of a drought. Conditions have improved, but barely. Most of the state is still in exceptional or extreme drought.

RELATED: All counties in CA now under drought emergency declaration

In the South Bay, a million residents will soon be hit with the toughest water restrictions of any major urban area in California.

Late Wednesday, the state PUC gave final approval to San Jose Water Company's plan. Approval by state regulators means the call to cut water use is no longer voluntary for South Bay residents.

The goal is to cutback and conserve, because now it'll cost customers.

San Jose Water took action after customers failed to meet a 15% reduction goal by August.

"That's when we filed the ability to start charging drought surcharges," San Jose Water's Director of Corp. Communications Liann Walborsky told ABC7 News. "And so, what we received approval on is activation of our schedule 14.1."

VIDEO: Valley Water rebate program encourages South Bay residents to reduce water usage

The program encourages the community to use drought-friendly plants is willing to pay for it - up to $3,000 in assistance. One resident showed us his yard as an example.

This means the company is setting water budgets, tailored to each customer. Customers will have to cut back 15% from the amount of water they used in 2019.

If people overuse, the company has the ability to charge them.

Customers will face $7.13 surcharges for each unit of water above that amount. Each unit is 100-cubic-feet, or 748-gallons.

Some we spoke with explained the fees may finally force people to consider drought conditions.

"I personally think that this year, people haven't been as serious about it as they have been in years past," San Jose resident, John Heinlein said. "But yet, it still has been a problem. So, I think it may be time for us to put some guidelines to help people do their part."

RELATED: Santa Clara County's water conservation efforts falling short of 15% cutback

Walborsky with San Jose Water said, "We had a great rainstorm a few weeks ago and it raised one of our reservoirs from 10% to 12%. It should be much, much higher than that."

Now residents say they're trying to make sense of the new potential monetary penalty.

"Everything is going up," San Jose resident Monica Mazzetti said. "The cost of living in the Bay Area is crazy. It's getting very difficult for all of us to live."

"We're not trying to be, you know, the big bad company here," Walborsky told ABC7 News. "But at the end of the day, there's a huge- there's just a very serious drought and people need to take it seriously."

Great Oaks Water Company, which also serves the South Bay, began similar rules July.

VIDEO: Wondering how to reduce water use by 15%? Here are some helpful tips

Governor Gavin Newsom declared a drought emergency for most of California. ABC7 compiled easy tips to save, from your toilet to your shower and lawn.

Walborsky said San Jose Water Company is only weeks away from implementation. Meanwhile, she said the company is taking the time to get its billing systems in place.

"We don't have any control over Mother Nature," she added. "We do have control over our own actions. We can take the steps we need to take to conserve."

Walborsky said the company is mailing out brochures to customers, with details about the new drought rules and water fees.

San Jose Water's website will be updated to reflect the changes, on Friday.