Record-setting winter precipitation in the Northern Sierra, coupled with heavy local rainfall and a significant snowpack in the upper Colorado River basin, prompted the San Diego County Water Authority’s Board of Directors today to declare an end to drought conditions in the region. The Board resolution also calls on Gov. Jerry Brown and the State Water Resources Control Board to rescind the statewide emergency water-use regulation for areas of California that are no longer in drought conditions.
The Water Authority’s supply forecast has continued to significantly improve with recent wet winter conditions, including a series of record-setting storms across California in January that benefited both statewide and local conditions. As of Jan. 23, San Diego’s official rainfall measurement station at Lindbergh Field had recorded 172 percent of average rainfall since the start of the water year on Oct. 1. More importantly, the water content of snow in the Sierra Nevada, a prime water source for much of the state, was 193 percent of average as of Jan. 23. Meanwhile, snowpack levels were at 161 percent of average in the upper basin of the Colorado River.
The state’s current emergency drought regulation is set to expire on Feb. 28, and the State Board is expected to decide whether to extend that regulation on Feb. 8. The Water Authority provided the State Board with written comments on the potential extension of the regulation ahead of the State Board’s Jan. 18 workshop on urban water conservation regulation.
“Telling the public to continue extraordinary, emergency conservation measures when the drought emergency no longer exists undermines the credibility of state and local water agencies and erodes the effectiveness of communications during actual water supply emergencies,” said Mark Muir, chair of the Water Authority’s Board. “The state should focus its 2017 efforts on communities that actually need help meeting water quality standards and water demands. We will continue to promote water-use efficiency in San Diego County no matter the weather.”
Water Authority General Manager Maureen Stapleton said continuing unnecessary statewide drought emergency regulations hampers the region’s ability to sustain a healthy and vibrant economy by undermining efforts to retain, attract and expand businesses and investment.
“We have had throughout this past drought – and continue to have – all the water necessary to meet the needs of local businesses and residents because our ratepayers made the significant investments needed to prepare for drought,” Stapleton said. “It is imperative that we in San Diego send a clear message to businesses already here, those considering expanding their operations here, and those considering moving here: the San Diego region is open for business. We have the water supply necessary to grow your business, to fuel our $222 billion regional economy and to support a high quality of life for our residents.”
Neither the Water Authority nor the vast majority of urban water suppliers statewide are experiencing supply shortages due to drought. The San Diego region has invested approximately $3.5 billion over the past three decades to increase regional water supply reliability, including seawater desalination, additional water storage capacity and upgraded conveyance systems. Local retail water agencies within the region also have made – and are in the process of making – major investments in local drought-resilient supplies such as water recycling, potable reuse, and desalination projects that further increase regional self-reliance.
The San Diego region met its aggregate mandatory savings target after the state imposed emergency regulations in 2015 to achieve the governor’s goal of an overall 25 percent cut in urban water use. In May 2016, the state updated its emergency regulation to a water supply “stress test” methodology that took actual levels of local supply reliability into account. Under that system, the Water Authority and its member agencies demonstrated that the region has sufficient supplies to avoid shortages even if it experiences three more dry years.
The San Diego region has continued to embrace water-use efficiency since mandatory savings targets ended in May 2016. Regional water use from June-December 2016 was 17 percent below 2013 levels. Even before the state emergency water-use mandates, per capita water use in the San Diego region had decreased nearly 40 percent between 1990 and 2015.
“As we look back over the past several years, it’s amazing to see all that we accomplished together,” Muir said. “We beat the state’s conservation targets, stored 100,000 acre-feet of water in San Vicente Reservoir for future dry years, and continued to embed water-use efficiency as a way of life. Together, we exit this drought even stronger than when we entered it, having enhanced the firm foundation of water supply reliability that supports the economy and quality of life we share.”
For decades, the Water Authority and its member agencies have promoted long-term water-use efficiency through education and outreach efforts such as home water-use checkups and rebate programs, and the agency launched its Live WaterSmart campaign in July 2016 to provide the public with resources for living a water-efficient lifestyle no matter the weather. For more information about these resources, go to WaterSmartSD.org.