NID enhances conservation measures by imposing fines
NID hopes to deter unlawful water usage through fines
With a mandatory 20% water-use reduction in place, the Nevada Irrigation District Board of Directors on Wednesday discussed the realities of enforcing drought-related restrictions, opting to impose fines for violators.
A resolution adopted by the board lays out a progressively financially punitive course of action in response to excessive or wasteful water use.
The administrative citations begin with a written warning that will specify a date and time by which a person can correct their violation. If the deadline is not met, NID may issue a second administrative citation. If the second violation takes place within 12 months of the first, the district will charge $250 for each. If a third administrative citation is issued within 12 months, then the district demands $500 for each violation cited. A fourth violation, and the individual responsible must pay NID $1,000 for each violation cited.
Successive violations will warrant the district suspending or limiting deliveries to the property, as well as “referring the matter” to the Nevada County District Attorney’s Office or Placer County.
The board said the intent behind the fines was to educate those who violate the restrictions NID introduced to customers via Resolution 2021-21, meant to escalate drought response and enhance conservation measures.
“Fine fees and penalties sound draconian, but the true intent is to provide warnings and education,” Operations Director Chip Close said. “In the last drought we found that is one of the most successful paths we can take.”
According to Public Information Officer Tomi Riley, the district implemented fining authority during the 2013 to 2016 drought, but never collected.
“The emphasis was on education and not fines,” Riley said. “Usually a warning letter and education is all it takes to get conservation compliance. I am not aware of actually implementing any fines in the last drought.”
Riley said the district reserves the right to fine in the case of violations, but will only exercise that right if individuals ignore repeated warnings.
“We’re not trying to go after those who didn’t quite hit their 20% (treated water use reduction) target,” Riley said. “We need the fine authority for the obvious abusers.“
NOT ENOUGH WATER
Riley said NID’s raw water customers order what they need for agriculture in advance each year. The 20% reduction is based on the customer’s usage in 2020, with the typical agricultural water season beginning in April and ending in October.
“Farmers know how much water they need and order before April,“ Riley explained. “If you haven’t ordered raw water like you were supposed to in April, you can’t until the drought restriction is lifted.”
Riley said NID will not be offering fall water sales this year in order to optimize carryover storage for next year. The district will also not be accepting any new raw water customers.
“We can’t,” Riley said. “We don’t have enough water.”
According to a staff report prepared by Close, “severely dry hydrologic conditions“ combined with insufficient snowpack runoff call for a policy-assisted collective tightening of the district’s belt.
Scarcity means the district is trying to secure literal and financial leaks wherever they pop up, Riley said.
Riley said customers have reported unlawful water theft from in-district hydrants, but the district is unsure how much water they lose each year to this kind of leak.
“Given these trucks are pulling up to fire hydrants throughout the district, it is difficult to police and difficult to determine how much is stolen,” Riley said. “Those that do it illegally have not applied for nor got a meter from us. They are often taking their license plates and other identifying markings off their truck for the time they are stealing the water.”
Close said holding people accountable for water theft is a particular challenge because the agency lacks the interface required to deliver educational messaging out of district. Additionally, NID lacks the kind of power wielded by law enforcement agencies.
“(The resolution) was not drafted with the theft issue in mind because we don’t have a personal relationship with those people,” Close said. “We have employees issuing citations to tenders who are not complying with the rules.”
Division 5 Director Rich Johansen said the fine amounts were appropriate for customers, but said outsiders illegally transporting NID water outside of the district should be met with higher financial penalties.
“We do have a moral obligation to do the right thing regardless of our inclination,” Johansen said, acknowledging the district’s mission to protect and conserve water.
Close said the district uses 10 fire hydrants as water filling stations for individuals or entities purchasing water from out of district. To prevent water theft, Close said NID considered locking the hydrants but faced legal repercussions if for some reason a locked hydrant proved unyielding during a fire-related crises.
General Manager Jennifer Hanson said it is hard to for any agency to deal with misdemeanor level offenses because they are low priority.
“To address higher level criminal theft without any law enforcement powers, we need to coordinate with the local pubic safety department,” Hanson said.
Division 2 Director Chris Bierwagen said that a water truck with a 4,000-gallon tank cannot physically sell over $10,000 of water — the financial minimum for a felony — so if water thieves were to be held financially accountable, it would be on their second offense.
Johansen suggested that water trucks from authorized vendors be given an identifying sticker.
NID attorney Dustin Cooper said the board may have the option of adding an “unlawful acts” addendum to the resolution to hold those illicitly transporting water out of district accountable.
Cooper said staff will be in conversation with the Nevada County sheriff and district attorney.
Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer with The Union. She can be reached at email@example.com
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