Burbank Water and Power is under fire for a warning letter it sent out to thousands of users — a letter threatening further action including fines if water wasting habits are not corrected. Mayor Bob Frutos and Vice-Mayor Jess Talamantes are among the recipients. However in a major screw-up, some residents who are complying with the city ordinance to save water got that letter, too. Many have bombarded BWP and city officials with emails and phone calls.
“The number of calls completely overwhelmed BWP for a couple of days.We had backups that were very severe,” Burbank City Manager,Mark Scott, said at last night’s city council meeting. (The BWP) “..put a lot of extra people on duty the last three work days — four work days now.. to address the phone calls that have come in…. over 500 residents who have contacted them about those letters.”
“The people were understandably upset,” Scott added.
It began with the BWP staff searching for ways to crack down on water wasters in an effort to help the city meet the state required reduction of 24 percent or one billion gallons by next February. Scott says they (the staffers) discovered that in the BWP database “… they have the capacity to go in on an address by address basis and look at the actual usage day by day that people have.”
So a plan was hatched:”They ran the statistic… and they ended up addressing 67-hundred letters to people in the community that fell within two categories and unfortunately used the same letter no matter what. One was a category of people who obviously were watering on days other than the two allowable days of the week (Tuesdays and Saturdays). And the other was people who were watering on the right days, but were rated in the high category of water usage, the top 20 percent of water usage, which caused BWP to assume they were overwatering on the days that they were watering. ” Scott explained.
Scott admits the staffers “.. missed out on some realities of our local ordinance and just realities of how things are working.” He’s referring to things like hand watering is allowed on anyday before 9 a.m. and after 6 p.m. and what he describes as “swimming pool issues,”for instance, replacing the water, which had evaporated from a home pool.
Scott apologized to the users who were wrongly targeted with the letter. However, he is convinced most people who got the letter “were using their irrigation system on days when they shouldn’t.”
Councilman Dr. David Gordon took issue with the letter as an example of a smart meter problem:” I think that we may have gone a little too far with utilizing the technology of smart meters to be monitoring people’s activity and interrupting people’s activity with water … it is offense to some, it is intimidating to others.”
Oddly, this discussion of the controversial warning letter went on last night without one BWP official being present to offer an explanation or apology. During the final period of public comment, activist, Mike Nolan, called out the BWP: “… how could it be not one single representative of our water and power department was here tonight? I understand individuals can get ill… we gave them all raises… we have a great command team down there.. how is that there is nobody here (from BWP) with that mess that went on..” I suspect quite a few Burbankers are asking the same question.