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California Fines Water Suppliers for Failing to Cut Back in Drought

State officials for the first time are fining California water suppliers for failing to meet a mandated 25 percent reduction in water use in the battle against a widespread drought.

The $61,000 fines are being imposed on Beverly Hills, Indio, Redlands and the Coachella Valley Water District.

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Beverly Hills officials said in a statement they may impose additional fines and hire extra staff to meet its savings goals. Officials with the Coachella Valley Water District said they, too, will develop new ways to encourage greater water savings.

Redlands spokesman Carl Baker said the city learned of the fine late Thursday and said officials will seek direction on how to respond from the City Council on Tuesday. He declined to elaborate.

Indio said it has been working hard to meet state water conservation goals, including adopting a drought penalty surcharge and offering rebates for water customers who get rid of their grass.

The Indio Water Authority said the utility will explore additional programs.

"We are committed to conserve," General Manager Brian Macy said in a statement.

Related: California Cut Water Use by 31 Percent in July

For a fourth straight month, Californians as a whole have cut back water consumption by more than 25 percent since Gov. Jerry Brown put that mandate into effect last June.

"Millions of Californians have saved water during the summer months, which are the four most critical months to save water," said State Water Resources Control Board Chairwoman Felicia Marcus.

"This is important and wonderful, and we are thankful for all of the effort by individuals and agencies. Now, we need to keep it up as best we can, even as we hope for as much rain and snow as we can safely handle."

In September, Californians reduced water use by more than 26 percent.

Statewide cutbacks amounted to 27 percent in August, 31 percent in July and 27 percent in June.

That put the state more than halfway toward its goal of saving 1.2 million acre-feet of water between June 2015 and February 2016.

An acre-foot or 325,851 gallons is about enough water to supply two households for a year.

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"Up and down the state, residents and water suppliers are making the necessary sacrifices needed to help California meet its conservation goals. However, some urban water suppliers simply have not met the requirements laid before them," said Cris Carrigan, director of the Office of Enforcement. "For these four suppliers, it's been too little too late to achieve their conservation standard."

Beverly Hills, with its huge mansions, including many fronted by sprawling, emerald-green lawns, has drawn the ire of Los Angeles residents who have complained of excessive water use by their wealthy neighborhood. Some of the city's homes have been targeted by so-called "drought shamers" who post videos online of water being wasted and allowed to run into the street.

Redlands actually has a link on its website that people can use to report water wasters, and city officials say they have taken numerous efforts to cut usage, including limiting watering days and installing drought-resistant landscaping in public places.

Once a sleepy agricultural area 70 miles east of Los Angeles, the city of 70,000 has grown into a bustling LA suburb in recent years. Indio, a desert resort town 20 miles east of Palm Springs and with a population of about 70,000, is located in the typically hot, dry Coachella Valley section of Southern California.

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Carrigan acknowledged the $61,000 fines being sought would have more impact on smaller districts but pointed out that continued violations could lead to a cease and desist order with potential fines of $10,000 a day. The water suppliers can appeal the fines.

Three hundred and eighty nine suppliers reported water use in September. The figures showed that the four communities missed mandated targets by between roughly 9 and 12 percent. For example, Beverly Hills was 11.7 percent off its 32 percent conservation target, or the equivalent of 175 million gallons of wasted water, officials said.

The announcement of fines comes as Brown declared a state of emergency Friday to address a massive tree die-off exacerbated by four years of drought.