Beverly Hills and three other Calif. cities fined for not enforcing water conservation
Water use in California was down 31 percent in July 2015 over the same period a year ago, and 27 percent in June, due to far reaching mandatory water saving measures (AFP Photo/Justin Sullivan)

Upscale Beverly Hills is among four California cities whose water utilities have been fined for not forcing residents to conserve enough water during California's unrelenting four-year drought, officials said on Friday.

The wealthy Los Angeles area municipality was fined $61,000 on Thursday, making it the only community not located in a desert to be assessed penalties, the California State Water Resources Board said.

"Some urban water suppliers simply have not met the requirements laid before them," said Cris Carrigan, director of the water board's Office of Enforcement. “For these four suppliers, it’s been too little too late."

"For those who aren't (conserving) and who are wasting water, you should be ashamed of yourselves," Carrigan said.

Californians are under orders from the water board and Democratic Governor Jerry Brown to cut usage by 25 percent over the levels used in 2013. As a whole, the state has met that goal for four months running, regulators said on Friday.

From June through August, California residents and businesses have saved 253 billion gallons of water, board Chairwoman Felicia Marcus told reporters.

But the cities of Beverly Hills, Indio and Redlands and the Coachella Valley Water District have not met the standard, and each were fined $61,000, the board said.

Beverly Hills, where some wealthy property owners continue to maintain lush green lawns despite orders to conserve, residents used about 169 gallons of water per person during September, compared with 68 gallons used by residents of Los Angeles.

Beverly Hills residents have wasted 175 million gallons of water since June, Carrigan said on the conference call.


One former Beverly Hills resident, Richard Greene, said the fine was far too small for what he said was possibly the richest city in the country, if not the world.

"Wow, ouch ... It actually seems to minimize the importance of water conservation when you're fining the wealthiest municipality $61,000, which is pocket change for most of the people you see walking up and down this street," Greene said.

Beverly Hills spokeswoman Cheryl Friedling said in a statement that the city is very concerned about not meeting the conservation mandate, and that it has been working aggressively toward that goal, even setting up a program to impose financial penalties on customers who waste water.

But she said the program did not start until this month. The city also plans to hire additional staff to investigate violations of conservation rules and put individual customers on personalized conservation programs if necessary.

Beverly Hills resident Prashant Raj was against the fine.

"But I would also say that people should just be aware of how they utilize the water," he said.

The municipalities and utilities that were fined were all warned in August they were not meeting the state's targets, Carrigan said. He said he expected them to pay the fines from reserve funds and did not know whether the agencies would seek to recoup the money from ratepayers.

Regulators urged continued conservation even if the El Nino weather phenomenon brings winter storms, because the rain may not fall far enough to the north to replenish vital mountain snowpack that melts in the spring to feed the state's streams and reservoirs.

"We're in a tough pickle on this," Marcus said. "We have to prepare for drought and flooding at the same time."

(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Additional reporting by Jane Ross; Editing by Eric Beech, David Gregorio and Ken Wills)