OAKLAND -- Two of the Bay Area's largest water agencies on Tuesday took steps to reduce outdoor water use, but stopped short of penalizing residential customers.
Responding to a state water board push for stronger conservation measures statewide, the East Bay Municipal Utility District Board outlawed water wasting practices such as flooding gutters and watering lawns more than twice a week -- practices it previously only asked customers to avoid.
The board, however, said it wouldn't fine customers as is done in some other areas with more severe water shortages such as Dublin, Santa Cruz, and Sacramento.
East Bay MUD customers had already been asked to reduce water use by 10 percent. Officials said formally banning water-wasting practices underscores the severity of the need to save this year, and they believe the wasters are shaping up when given written or verbal warnings by an enlarged crew of district water watchers.
"We think the public is getting the message to save water," said Abby Figueroa, an EBMUD spokeswoman. "We prefer to use a softer approach with an emphasis on public education."
The district's 1.3 million customers in Contra Costa and Alameda counties have met EBMUD's goal of reducing water by 10 percent this year, she noted. But the district has fallen well short of Gov. Jerry Brown's request for all Californians to reduce their use 20 percent.
EBMUD Board President Andy Katz of Berkeley said district customers have done well considering that a recent state survey showed Californians as a whole have cut back only about 3 percent from last year.
"A brown lawn is a badge of honor," Katz said.
Not a single customer spoke Tuesday afternoon on the emergency drought ordinance before it was approved on a 7-0 vote.
Among the practices banned are using a hose without a shut-off valve to wash cars or boats, using potable water to wash sidewalks or pavements or to fill fountains that do not recirculate, and watering landscaping other than potted plants more than twice a week.
If a customer ignores repeated warnings to stop wasting, the district has power to restrict or turn off water flows to homes or businesses. The district hasn't yet had to take that step this year, officials said.
The number of public complaint calls to the district is skyrocketing, increasing from 10 calls in June to 211 in July, Figueroa said. To respond, the district has added two more conservation specialists, bringing to 15 the number of employees on staff who deal with complaints.
The East Bay district is in better shape than many water suppliers this year because it tapped a new water supply from the Sacramento River that took decades to plan and deliver.
"Our diversity of sources is one of the reasons we're in relatively good shape," said Katy Foulkes, a water board member from Piedmont.
Meanwhile, the board of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission voted to require a mandatory 10 percent reduction in outdoor water use from customers across the city. But in practice, the rules will only be enforced on the 1,600 large irrigation customers in San Francisco, which include schools, parks and shopping centers.
Those large users will be given a monthly water allocation equal to 90 percent of their 2013 use, and will be charged penalties for going beyond it. The amount of the penalties is expected to be set at the commission's Aug. 26 meeting.
Other residential and commercial property owners will not be given monthly water allocations or face penalties.
-- Paul Rogers contributed to this report.
Contact Denis Cuff at 925-943-8267. Follow him at Twitter.com/deniscuff