Poway Eyes Computer Program to Track Residents' Water Use

When it comes to saving water, some of the county's most conservation-minded residents may wind up being electronically monitored.

That approach is just in the planning stages in the city of Poway and eventually may not need to be rolled out.

But the city council wants a way to guard against residents back-sliding from water-use reductions -- which reached an amazing 45 percent in May, compared to the same month in 2013.

"We wouldn't want to put any sort of things that are negative on folks that are stepping up and dealing with this drought, conserving water and doing what we all need to be doing throughout the city of Poway,” said Poway Public Works Director Troy Bankston. “So we're really confident that we can keep moving in that direction."

Poway's taking a page out of the pioneering playbook in Santa Monica, where computer software is now digitally tracking the water accounts of residents there.

"So what this is,” explained city management analyst Alex Heide in an interview Thursday, “ is a 'fail-safe' in case the numbers start to trend in the wrong direction, and ultimately we're not meeting that allocation mandated by the state."

Cities that fail to meet conservation mandates face $10,000-a-day state fines -- which would be passed on and parceled out to non-compliant customers.

Poway residents who spoke with NBC 7 seemed to be on-board with the monitoring approach.

"I think people need to be held accountable for the water that they're using,” said Yesenia Diaz. “Sometimes when they don't think anybody's paying attention, they tend to use more. And I think all of us need to be aware of what we're using and what the effect on the environment is."

Added Jerry Mattio: "I do agree with it -- as long as the consequences at first are mild and reasonable.”

Officials emphasize that it’s ultimately up to the city council to green-light the digital tracking.

They’re framing it as "a teaching opportunity" for residents to go online and do their own account monitoring -- before gentle reminders in water bills prod those who fall short of savings marks.

If bad reading persists, fines to be determined by the council could follow for non-compliant customers.

The cost of the computer software is expected to run the low five figures.

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