by David Goldstein

In prison, inmates discourage reporting misbehavior to authorities, using the slogan, “Snitches get stiches.” In high school, reporting infractions of the rules might earn someone the insult of being called a “narc,” short for “narcotics officer.” But in both cases, telling on someone is probably actually good for them in the long run.

Reporting a water waster is similar. Rather than assessing penalties for first offences, water purveyors generally issue warnings, and if the wasteful behavior stops, the offending party saves money on their water bill. 

The list of infractions, and the number to call to report water wasters, depends on where you live. Look at the phone number on your water bill to determine who to call for water reporting in your area, and look at the website of your water purveyor to find out the rules. The following violations in areas served by California American Water are typical: It is a violation to run sprinklers during rainfall or for 48 hours after rainfall; water may not be used to wash hardscape; no irrigation runoff or overspray is allowed on sidewalks, streets or driveways; vehicles may be washed in driveways only if a hose has a positive shutoff valve; all leaks must be fixed within 72 hours; restaurants may serve water only upon request; and hotels must provide guests with the option to request that towels and linens not be laundered daily and must provide prominent notice of this option.

As I noted in my column last week, it is also important to report when water is being wasted on an enormous scale through breaks of main lines or service lines. But there is one activity often mistaken for either a main line break or a waste of water: line flusing. Line flushing uses tremendous amounts of water, but it is necessary to maintain water quality by removing sediment and the build-up of internal corrosion over time. Water crews force water through mains at high speed and discharge the water through hydrants, usually for at least 30 minutes, until the water runs clear. For safety, and so they can immediately see when the water is running clear and stop the flow of water as quickly as possible, they either do this work during the day or use bright lights for work at night.

In addition to the high use of water and the potential inconvenience of puddling, line flushing is also a source of complaints because minerals such as iron removed by the flow can discolor water in homeowner’s pipes. In some cases, this tinted water may discolor white laundry. Running cold water through a faucet clears discolored water.

While some water line maintenance crews simply open hydrants and flush water into storm drains, others have better opportunities. For example, the city of Thousand Oaks is fortunate to have its wastewater treatment system in Hill Canyon, downhill from the city, and is also fortunate in that this system has permits to discharge into Conejo Creek, which the Camrosa Water District then mostly diverts and sells to landscape and agricultural customers. 

Water crews in other areas also run hoses from fire hydrants into utility service accessways (USAs, formerly called manholes), sending water to sewers instead of storm drains, but pumping costs are higher, and availability of USAs is often lower. For example, since nearly all of Camarillo’s wastewater is recycled for park fields, road medians and agriculture, crews there flush to sewer whenever possible, but flush to storm drains in some parts of the city.”

The water administrators for the city of Ventura have a solution for saving line-flushed water: using a Neutral Output Discharge Elimination System, called “the NO-DES truck.” The truck accompanies crews to line flushing sites, captures discharge, filters and disinfects the water, and puts it back into the distribution system, minimizing waste. In cases where water cannot be recirculated, the NO-DES truck hauls away the water for use on city trees, landscapes, and park grass. 

So, report waste, but not line flushing.  

David Goldstein, Environmental Resource Analyst, with Ventura County Public Works Agency, may be contacted at david.goldstein@ventura.org or 805-658-4312.