In response to deepening drought conditions and new statewide directives, the San Diego County Water Authority staff will recommend that the agency’s Board of Directors activate the next stage of the region’s drought response plan next week and declare a Level 2 Drought Alert calling for mandatory water conservation measures to prevent water waste. The actions would help San Diego County keep as much water as possible in storage for 2015 and comply with emergency water conservation mandates approved today by the State Water Resources Control Board.
State regulations, which are focused on ornamental landscapes and turf grass that use potable water, take effect Aug. 1. The Water Authority’s Board will consider its response at its next meeting on July 24.
The region’s Model Drought Response Ordinance identifies four levels of drought response with progressive water-use restrictions designed to align demand with supply during water shortages. The Board declared a Level 1 Drought Watch condition on Feb. 13. Level 1 outlines a number of voluntary practices to encourage increased water conservation. Level 2 makes Level 1 measures mandatory, and it adds outdoor watering restrictions such as limiting landscape irrigation to no more than three days per week. During the months of November through May, landscape irrigation is limited to no more than once per week. Level 2 mandatory conservation measures in the model ordinance include:
- Limiting outdoor watering days and times
- Watering only during the late evening or early morning hours
- Eliminating runoff from irrigation systems
- Repairing all leaks within 72 hours
- Turning off water fountains and other water features unless they use recycled water
- Using hoses with shut-off valves for washing cars (or patronizing commercial car washes that re-circulate water)
- Serving water to restaurant patrons only upon request
- Offering hotel guests the option of not laundering towels and linens daily
- Using recycled or non-potable water for construction when available
Local rules may vary based on regulations adopted by member agencies. City councils and water district boards will have to take action to activate mandatory water-use restrictions in their jurisdictions.
Proposed changes to the Water Authority’s drought response level follow months of record-breaking high temperatures and increasing concerns statewide about maintaining storage reserves for 2015 and beyond. Earlier today, the State Water Resources Control Board in Sacramento adopted emergency water conservation regulations that establish mandatory water-saving measures statewide. Those prohibitions are primarily aimed at reducing how much water is used outdoors, where more than half of the total water is used at a typical single-family home.
“Regional investments and a demonstrated commitment to conservation have buffered San Diego County from the worst effects of the drought so far, but we believe the right thing to do now is to move to mandatory water conservation measures,” said Maureen Stapleton, general manager of the Water Authority. “We don’t know how long this drought will last – and the unusually hot and dry conditions have made it more challenging to save water with voluntary efforts.”
The Water Authority is not anticipating cutbacks to its imported water supplies this year that would trigger mandatory supply cutbacks to its member agencies, however, that could happen next year if conditions don’t improve. The region’s improved water supply reliability is the result of two decades of investments by the San Diego region to diversify its water supply sources, investments in Southern California reservoir storage and a sharp reduction in regional water use since 2007.
The San Diego region’s largest water supplier, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, is expected to deliver approximately 1.1 million acre-feet of water from storage to meet demand in its service area this year, reducing MWD’s reserves by about half. If MWD allocates water to its member agencies next year, the impacts of those reductions will be moderated in San Diego County by regional investments in additional sources, such as the Colorado River water transfers and the Carlsbad Desalination Project, which is expected to produce water as soon as fall 2015.
State and local water officials have been monitoring current drought conditions since 2012. After the start of a third straight dry year in 2014, Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought-related state of emergency Jan. 17 and asked for voluntary water conservation statewide.
On Feb. 13, the Water Authority’s Board went to Level 1 Drought Watch and formally activated the agency’s Water Shortage and Drought Response Plan, which outlines a series of orderly and progressive steps for the Water Authority to take during drought conditions. That plan, designed to minimize impacts to the region’s economy and quality of life, played a key role in helping member agencies manage water supply challenges during the last major drought. The Water Authority went to Level 2 in July 2009 and advised its member agencies to reduce their water use by an average of 8 percent in response to supply reductions by MWD. By the time water supply improvements allowed for the end of mandatory cutbacks in April 2011, the region had cut its water use by about 20 percent. The proposed Level 2 Drought Alert actions are intended to achieve water savings of up to 20 percent.
In April, the Water Authority launched its drought outreach campaign, “When in Drought: Save every day, every way.” The campaign includes ads, public service announcements, online communications and drought reminders provided by community partners in public places such as San Diego International Airport and Petco Park. The campaign is located online at www.whenindrought.org.
Despite conservation efforts, extremely hot and dry conditions pushed up regional water use an estimated 3.5 percent in fiscal year 2014 compared to the prior fiscal year. However, even with this weather-driven increase, water use in San Diego County has declined 20 percent since 2007.
Rainfall at Lindbergh Field is about half of normal so far in 2014, and average temperatures at Lindbergh Field are the highest since at least 1940 for January through May. While there is a high likelihood of an El Niño weather phenomenon forming this fall and winter, forecasters are beginning to downgrade its strength, lowering its potential to produce heavy rain and snow that California needs this winter to stabilize water supplies.
More than 80 percent of respondents to a March public opinion survey by the Water Authority said they consider water conservation to be a civic responsibility. Still, more than half of countywide respondents (53 percent) said they could do more to conserve water at home. Full poll results are at www.sdcwa.org/public-opinion-research.
“San Diego County has done a phenomenal job reducing water use, and we thank all the residents and businesses for their water-saving efforts,” said Ken Weinberg, director of Water Resources for the Water Authority. “That level of conservation, coupled with hot summertime temperatures, means it will be challenging to do more. But the water supply situation is getting more serious each day, and we all need to redouble our efforts to conserve water and prepare for a potential fourth consecutive dry year in 2015.”