Due to a proposed regulation on water use, that cold glass of water at the diner or a fresh towel at a hotel room could cost the server up to $200 in the most extreme scenario.
It’s all part of a new plan Fresno’s Public Utilities Department is devising to continue the city’s water conservation efforts. For years, watering your home lawn has been restricted to certain days (“odd numbers water on Saturday; even numbers water on Sunday” as the jingle goes).
But, city documents uncovered by former Fresno County Supervisor and water advocate Doug Vagim (and reported on by CV Observer’s George Hostetter), show plans go beyond just the home.
Public Utilities Director Thomas Esqueda filed a 118-page document called an Environmental Assessment (EA) Application with the city clerk on June 23. It asks the city “to amend the Fresno Municipal Code (FMC) to prohibit water-wasteful practices year round.”
As mentioned above, some of the proposed changes involve the number days for watering. Esqueda’s plan would actually increase this activity, from two days to three for June-August in what is called Stage 2. If Fresno is in Stage 4, watering during May-October would be allowed once a week (up from none currently as the document points out).
The stages of water conservation are determined by various conditions. The greater the stage number, the more conservation is required. For example, Stage 1 would go into effect if the projected water supply is less than the long-term average or groundwater contamination conations exist. Then, the city would need to reduce water supply 10%. The city would be in Stage 4, requiring up to 50% conservation if water availability is down for a fifth straight year, among other factors.
The EA and a draft of an ordinance includes 17 activities that would be considered wasting water. Some are common sense things: irrigating ornamental turf on street medians; watering landscape after 48 hours of measurable rainfall; or the frequency of draining and filling swimming pools.
But two suggestions could result in a cultural change Fresnans may not be used to: serving drinking water at restaurants would not be allowed unless requested; and changing linens and towels at hotels would not be allowed either unless requested.
Esqueda’s plan imposes a series of increasing monetary penalties for each violation. The first month an incident is recorded would be a warning. The second month would be a $50 fine. It doubles again for months three and four ($100-$200). Any further months with a water waste incident would stay at $200, applied to the utility bill.
“I don’t have a problem with that. But, really, who is not going to have some water? I’ve never seen people not drink water,” noted Fresno restaurateur Dave Fansler tells GV Wire.
Fansler, whose properties include Pismo’s and Westwoods BBQ, says his servers already ask customers if they want water. “I think (the plan) is impractical, but it doesn’t surprise me.”
He says he rarely sees drinking water wasted. “I just can’t see that being an impact on the water table. We are under ridiculous, intense regulation. This is more picky stuff. Pretty soon (regulators) are going to ask how big is your water glass?”
Lynn Mohrfeld, President & CEO of the California Hotel & Lodging Association, says his industry has been dealing with these issues since the drought was officially declared by Governor Jerry Brown in 2014.
“For many hotels, this is standard operating procedure with our organization providing water conversation cards free of charge to members,” Mohrfeld tells GV Wire. Earlier this year, Brown declared the drought over for most places, with Fresno County being an exception.
Other than the statewide regulations, Mohrfeld is unaware of other city’s with such conservation ordinances. “Piecemeal regulations are never good for the industry,” Mohrfeld says.
Officially, the language on the drinking water and hotel sections of the proposed amendment reads:
In the use of potable water supplied by the City, no (water utility) customer shall do or permit any of the following:
-Serve drinking water other than upon request in eating or drinking establishments, including but not limited to, restaurants, hotels, cafes, cafeterias, bars, or other public places where food or drink are served or purchased.
– Automatically change towels and linens in hotels and motels daily. Operators of hotels and motels shall provide guests the option of choosing not to have towels and linens laundered daily. The hotel or motel shall prominently display notice of this option in each guestroom using clear and easily understood language.
Similar language is actually already part of city law. The major exception is that currently, they are just suggestions of what the City Council could do if the Governor declares a drought.
Esqueda’s plans are just a draft report. Any action would need to be decided by the council.
GV Wire reached out to the Public Utilities Department through city spokesman Mark Standriff, but did not receive a comment by time of publication.
[Note: this story was updated to clarify that the $200 mark represents the maximum fine the city could levy on restaurants and hotels]