The Bay Area water agency that pioneered “drought shaming” — by publicly naming people who were hitting the tap hard — will cease fining excessive water users, reports SF Gate. As a wet winter and increased conservation have eased the water shortage for much of the state of California the East Bay Municipal Utility District has decided financial penalties for its customers who exceed conservation quotas are no longer necessary. The agency serves Oakland and Berkeley, among other cities.
“Why would we continue penalizing customers when we have enough water?” Sherri Hong, district manager of customer and community services, told SF Gate. “We feel that conservation is going to continue regardless. We think that our customers have acquired great habits.”
The agency is asking customers to continue to maintain last year’s 20 percent reduction in water usage, but it will do away with the fines for water hogs. Fines had been levied against residents who averaged more than 1,000 gallons of water per day, with violations upward of $1,000, based on use. Since July, the agency collected a cumulative $596,878 in fines from over 5,000 violators.
The punitive policy was among the first and most progressive in California. Being issued a violation made quota-busting residents’ water usage a matter of public record. Oakland A’s executive Billy Beane and San Francisco Giants pitcher Matt Cain were among the famous names unwittingly caught with their faucets on. During one billing period, Chevron Vice Chairman George Kirkland was revealed to be guzzling 12,578 gallons per day. The average household uses about 300 gallons a day.
Since the policy was instituted last summer, the East Bay water agency has seen a 24 percent drop in water usage, higher than the district’s 20 percent goal and the 16 percent reduction mandated by the state. The district’s water supplies currently sit at 72 percent of capacity, about 88 percent of normal supply this time of year.
Jen Kinney is a freelance writer and documentary photographer. Her work has also appeared in Philadelphia Magazine, High Country News online, and the Anchorage Press. She is currently a student of radio production at the Salt Institute of Documentary Studies. See her work at jakinney.com.