Facing unprecedented drought conditions, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California’s board of directors on Tuesday approved a 15 percent water supply cutback to the San Diego County Water Authority and its other customers starting July 1. That decision is one of several important actions in coming weeks that will impact the San Diego region’s water supplies and conservation targets over the next year.
Given the severity of the drought, the MWD delegates from the Water Authority supported a steeper cut, and voted yes on a substitute motion to adopt a Level 4 – 20 percent – allocation because key assumptions made by MWD on its available water supplies this year were overly optimistic. They also said the Level 4 allocation would be more protective of MWD’s stored supplies and would help MWD avoid potentially steeper allocations next year, should drought conditions persist. That substitute motion failed, and the Water Authority delegates voted no on the Level 3, 15 percent allocation.
The Water Authority’s Board of Directors will consider establishing fiscal year 2016 water delivery reductions for its 24 member agencies at a special meeting on May 14 along with other regional drought response actions. The Board initially was scheduled to take action on April 23. That decision was rescheduled after the State Water Resources Control Board announced it would adopt water reduction mandates on May 6 to implement Gov. Jerry Brown’s April 1 executive order mandating a 25 percent statewide reduction in water use.
The Water Authority has submitted formal comments to the state board about its proposed framework for water-use reductions because the initial draft would undermine investments in water supply reliability projects and harm the state and local economies. (The letter is at www.sdcwa.org/pdf/StateBoard_letter_2015_0413.pdf.)
Following the state board's May 6 action and the Water Authority’s May 14 action, the Water Authority’s member agencies will develop plans for meeting each community’s water-use reduction targets.
“Under our region’s drought management plan, the Water Authority would have been able to significantly reduce the impact of today’s cuts by MWD using the prudent investments we have made in conservation and independent water supplies over the past two decades,” said Maureen Stapleton, general manager of the Water Authority. “The proposed regulations by the state board do not allow us to get credit for those investments, and we are working hard in Sacramento to craft more equitable rules.
“While we don’t know exactly what the final conservation targets will be, it’s critical that every resident immediately eliminate unnecessary water use – severely restrict lawn watering, take shorter showers and fix leaks immediately,” Stapleton said. “We could be in for a very long road ahead, and we all need to step up. Taking all of these actions indoors and outdoors really does add up to a significant water savings across the region.”
MWD’s actions and the governor’s mandates were driven by extended hot and dry conditions statewide. Snow water content in the Sierra Nevada snowpack on April 1 was just 5 percent of its historical average – the lowest since snowpack records began in 1950 – which means there will be no significant runoff during the summer and fall when California’s water demands typically increase.
MWD’s supply reductions for the Water Authority are the largest in more than two decades. During severe drought conditions 1991 and 1992, MWD reduced supplies to the region by 31 percent for 13 months. Since then, the Water Authority has been steadily diversifying its supply sources. One element of that strategy has involved securing independent Colorado River water supplies through a historic conservation-and-transfer agreement with the Imperial Valley in 2003. Current hydrologic conditions are better in the Colorado River Basin than they are in the Sierra Nevada. Nonetheless, inflows into Lake Powell this year will only be about two-thirds of average, and the river basin remains mired in a multi-year drought.
In addition, the Water Authority and Poseidon Resources are developing the largest seawater desalination project in the Western Hemisphere. The $1 billion Carlsbad Desalination Project is expected to produce 50 million gallons per day starting this fall. The Water Authority also has heavily promoted conservation, helping to drive down per capita water use in the region by 31 percent since 1990. Regional potable water use in 2014 was 12 percent lower than it was in 1990, despite adding 700,000 people to the county.
The combined effect of the region’s diversification efforts is that today MWD provides about half of the San Diego region’s water supply, down from 95 percent in 1991. Those investments paid dividends from July 2009 to April 2011 when the Water Authority reduced drought-induced cutbacks from MWD by nearly half.
While the Water Authority’s strategy helped to protect the region from supply reductions during the first three years of the current drought, the agency must now consider the state water board’s actions and the potential that the drought will continue into 2016 or beyond.
The Water Authority’s Board declared a Drought Alert condition in July 2014 calling for mandatory water conservation measures, which include repairing leaks within 72 hours, adhering to rules for outdoor watering days and times and eliminating runoff from irrigation systems. Restrictions vary by member agency. For information about water-use rules by community, go to www.whenindrought.org. The website also provides links to water conservation resources such as a home water-use calculator, a 140-page digital flipbook “eGuide to a WaterSmart Lifestyle,” and incentives on a range of water-saving measures, from rain barrels to low-water-use devices and appliances.