Environment & Science

City of Redlands avoids $61K fine by using alligators to teach kids to save water

Irrigation of a citrus grove in Redlands, CA.
Irrigation of a citrus grove in Redlands, CA.
Flickr user cyclotourist via Creative Commons

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The City of Redlands will not have to pay a $61,000 fine for failing to meet state mandatory water conservation standards.

Instead, the city will spend an equivalent amount of money on a water education campaign that features two water savvy alligators. The city will also help curtail outdoor water use in the city’s many citrus groves.

Redlands was one of four California water districts that was fined for using too much water in 2015, the year Gov. Jerry Brown announced the first-ever statewide mandatory water restrictions.

The State Water Resources Control Board officials had told Redlands to cut its water use by 36 percent compared to the same period in 2013, but the city missed that goal. It only cut its water use by 27 percent cumulatively. The City of Redlands did not respond to requests for comment on the settlement.

(See Redlands’ water use over time, or any other water agency in the state.)

Of the four districts fined last year, three settled with the state and developed alternative conservation programs. Only Beverly Hills paid its $61,000 fine, the maximum penalty allowed. The Coachella Valley Water District created a drought landscaping certification that will be required for all landscapers in the valley before renewing their license. The Indio Water Authority designed a water education program for disadvantaged schools, a new website where customers can track their water use in real time and a series of rebates.

Redlands decided to focus on inefficient outdoor water use. It created a new incentive to encourage some of its largest water users, orchards and citrus groves, to switch to more efficient irrigation. The City also decided to teach its youngest water uses to get excited about saving water. Elementary-school kids in Redlands will soon meet two alligators, Ira the irriGATOR, who wastes water, and Era the investiGATOR, who reports water waste. (The city is seeking bids for the design and illustration of the Ira/Era storyline, so creative types, take note.)

Jasmine Oaxaca, a water resource control engineer with the state water board, said working with communities on a conservation settlement is more collaborative than hitting them with a fine. But there’s no way of knowing how much the incentives and the alligators will actually help Redlands save water: the state doesn’t track water savings from education and incentive programs.

Still, settlements may lead to longer lasting water conservation than a one-time fine, according to Brian Gray, a senior fellow with the Public Policy Institute of California.

“Sixty-one thousand dollars is not going to be sufficient to effectuate any meaningful change in behavior,” he said. “Having an agreement where the city agrees to fund and implement conservation and efficiency measure that should have long-term effects, I think that's definitely better than simply collecting the $61,000.”