As California's severe drought continues, state and local agencies are looking at budgeting water use by creating a daily water allocation for each household.
The San Gabriel Valley Tribune reports that under such a scheme, a household would be allotted a certain number of gallons for indoor water use and another for outdoor water use.
The amount allocated is calculated using census data, aerial photography and satellite imagery to determine a property's efficient water usage amount. Those using above their designated amount would pay extra.
Such a system is already in use or being considered by several municipalities statewide.
The Irvine Ranch Water District factors the number of residents, landscaping and medical needs into a household's water budget. In Santa Monica, the City Council votes next month on whether to assign every single-family home with four people an indoors water budget of 68 gallons per person, per day. Today individual use is about 88 gallons.
"A customer uses beyond that allocation, then it is possible some penalties might apply,'' said Gilbert Borboa, water resources manager for the city of Santa Monica. The city's working on allocations for bigger households, apartments and condominiums as well as commercial establishments such as hotels. The ordinance has labeled outdoor use as non-essential.
Felicia Marcus, chair of the State Water Resources Control Board, said it is unlikely the state board will assign every resident a specific water budget. She said doing so would be left up to local agencies and cities. However, Marcus recommended agencies incentivize the use of less water through different rate structures.
"Rates send a powerful signal,'' Marcus said. ``It is one thing to ask for voluntary action...but that can only go so far.''
Matt Lyons, Long Beach's director of planning and conservation, said such water budgeting methods are deeply flawed because aerial images don't show all the factors that affect water use.
"You can't do it with any degree of accuracy or without being intrusive.''
Instead, Long Beach tries to change the behavior and water-use culture by incentivizing less use. Homeowners are paid $3.50 per square foot to remove their lawns and replace them with drought-tolerant plants. So far 1,400 residents have cashed in for an average savings of 22 percent less water each. And the city has seen a drop in water use of 10,000 acre-feet from 2007 to 2009, Lyons said.
Other areas make water hogs pay a higher rate. Irvine charges $12.60 per hundred cubic feet, more than 10 times the $1.34 base rate for ``wasteful'' water use. And while many cities including Los Angeles charge customers tiered water rates, requiring they pay more when using more, there are still some who don't mind the extra expense.
Pasadena City Council member Margaret McAustin said Pasadena Water and Power is looking at "putting in a new tier for people who use a lot of water.''
But water agencies must be careful with tiered charging or they may violate Proposition 218, which allows water agencies to only charge for the cost of water service, Lyons said. Because they can't make a profit, a water agency must charge others less when it charges someone more, which leads to inequities, he said.