Residents of Montecito and Summerland begin the weekend with new severe restrictions on water use.

The Montecito Water District Board approved Ordinance 93, creating specific limits for all lots (users.)  The mandatory restrictions are broken into two parts, with a monthly limit for each user of 18,700 gallons of water per month. 

"Every resident gets that regardless of lot size.  That's enough for all your interior needs, your health, safety and small landscape buffer," said Water Board President Darlene Bierig.

The second restriction is based on acreage, an amount of water the district calls "non essential," with an average home in Montecito on a one-acre parcel of land limited to an additional water amount of approximately 6,900 gallons per month.  The specific limit on non-essential water depends on the size of the property.

Users who exceed the restrictions face fines starting at $30 for each additional "unit" of water used.  A unit is 748 gallons of water.

Water users who exceed the new restricted allotments by more than 125% could face water flow restricters placed on their meter. 

Resident Pat Nesbitt lives on an estate above Summerland and admits to being one of the largest water users in the district, with sweeping grounds, polo fields and ponds.  He calls the new restrictions draconian.

"My attorney said if I use the same amount of water in July, my heaviest month, I'm facing $148,000 in fines.  In fines!  Not for the water.  Just in fines," Nesbitt said.

Water District officials declined to speak about Nesbitt's specific case, citing ongoing litigation.  Nesbitt claims he has failed in attempts to leave the Water District to receive his supplies from another provider such as Carpinteria.

Friday's vote to impose mandatory limits was unanimous.  The district's goal is to reduce overall usage by 30 percent.

Many Montecito residents declined to speak on the record about the decision, but a reporter heard several residents expressing grave concerns, with the word "panic" used by at least one Water Board member.

Montecito Journal Editor and local resident Bob Hazard also attended and described how difficult it would be for those living with the new restrictions.

"People are not going to like it.  Half the people in Montecito are offenders.  I'm an offender. It's gonna be tough," Hazard said.

Residents will receive a water bill in March showing how much water was used and any excess.  March will be considered a "grace period" with fines starting in April. 

The Water District Board also unanimously approved a formal request to the City of Santa Barbara to re-open a desalination plant that has sat idle more than 20 years.  Water officials in Santa Barbara have already started that process, but have reported it could take as long as two years to re-start that system.

Editor's note:  This story has been updated from a prior version to correct amounts of water limitations.