The Tuolumne Utilities District Board of Directors will allow TUD customers to water their lawns this summer, while still requiring a minimum 25-percent reduction in water usage.

TUD General Manager Tom Scesa recommended the policy change at Tuesday's board meeting because, he said, he is confident customers can still meet conservation needs by taking other steps to save water.

He said a TUD employee will be reassigned to monitor customer usage and enforce penalties.

Historically low winter precipitation prompted the board in January to adopt a goal for cutting water usage in half districtwide. To meet the goal, the board banned lawn watering and implemented a penalty system that includes a possible $500 fine for customers who don't conserve at least 25 percent.

Scesa said there has been little need for enforcement thus far, and that the public has done an "excellent job" at saving water.

District customers reduced overall usage by about 48 percent in May over the same month in 2013, he said. No one has been fined at this point, but more than 200 written warnings have been issued to customers who didn't meet the minimum requirement.

"Most people are doing the right thing because it's common sense," said TUD board member Ruanne Mikkelsen.

The district has also put numerous contingency plans in place to ensure an adequate supply for summer, which includes an agreement to buy up to 2,400 acre-feet of water out of New Melones Reservoir - enough for about 4,800 households.

Lawn watering was initially targeted in the restrictions because lawns account for half an average household's annual water use.

However, Scesa and the board said its time to let customers choose how to meet the conservation goals.

For the complete story, see the June 11, 2014, edition of The Union Democrat.