On Tuesday, the California State Water Resources Control Board voted to approve fines of up to $500 a day for overuse of water, in an effort to penalize those who do not conserve amidst the state’s crippling drought. Now, Santa Cruz residents with hefty water fines can attend the Santa Cruz Water School, a free, one-time class that, if completed successfully, eliminates all water penalties outright.
“We don’t want to penalize people,” Santa Cruz Water District spokeswoman Eileen Cross told KSBW. “We want to educate people, because water is so precious and we all need to do everything we can to conserve, and so it’s an opportunity for us to educate the public.”
The class runs for about two hours and, like traffic school, erases fines in exchange for education. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, areas of focus include instruction on finding water meters, the severity of California’s drought, and “Basics of Municipal Utilities Services.”
“We’re encouraging people to attend water school,” instructor Amanda Bunte told KSBW. “Having a bill that daunting when they’re used to a $200 bill would be kind of an economic scare.”
One resident had a $4,400 fine for overuse of water due to an unknown leak, according to the report. However, after two hours in water school, the fine was gone.
“Most of the information that we’re teaching people they were not aware of prior to the class,” Bunte said. “They’re definitely very relieved to get these penalties removed, and a lot of them take away some good conservation tips.”
According to the Chronicle, Santa Cruz has some of the strictest water rationing regulations in all of California. Most households are allowed 249 gallons of water a day; in the first month that new regulations went into effect, 1,635 account violations led to $341,000 worth of fines citywide.
Toby Goddard, the city’s Water Conservation Manager, came up with the idea for water school.
“Thousands of dollars in penalties are being removed in exchange for an hour and a half or two hours of education,” he told the Chronicle. “We want to redirect the anger over penalties and turn it into a positive experience.”