Water Authority Board Adopts Enhanced Efforts to Reduce Regional Water Use

Short Title
Water Authority Board Adopts Efforts to Reduce Water Use
Goal is to help local agencies achieve state-mandated conservation targets
May 14, 2015

The San Diego County Water Authority’s Board of Directors today acted to help local water agencies meet state mandated water-use reduction targets by restricting irrigation of ornamental landscapes to no more than two days a week across the region and immediately boosting regional conservation and outreach efforts by $1 million. In addition, the Board established local urban and agricultural water supply cutbacks based on reduced water deliveries from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and set penalties for local agencies that exceed their supply allocations.

The regional approach centers on decreasing ornamental landscape irrigation first to minimize the economic disruption caused by cuts to water used by industrial, commercial and farming operations. Local water agencies are responsible for determining the specific measures necessary to meet state mandates and avoid financial penalties by the State Water Resources Control Board.

“The Water Authority has stepped up in the face of unprecedented drought challenges statewide to provide an array of tools that our local member agencies can use,” said Mark Weston, chair of the Water Authority’s Board. “We will continue to develop and refine our coordinated drought response efforts to support the numerous conservation programs across the region, but the real power to get through this emergency lies with every water user in our county.

“To meet the state-mandated water-use targets and protect the region’s economy, we will all have to step up our water-saving efforts. That may mean sacrifice by letting our lawns go brown. It also means reducing shower times and fixing leaks immediately. These are the right things to do in light of the potential for the drought to continue into 2016 and beyond, and they will help local water agencies avoid fines from state regulators.”

On May 5, the State Water Resources Control Board adopted emergency statewide regulations that set water-use reduction targets for local water agencies from June 1 through February 2016. For the Water Authority’s 24 member agencies, state mandates require them to reduce their water use by 12 to 36 percent compared to their 2013 water-use levels.

As a wholesale water agency, the Water Authority coordinates drought response actions for San Diego County to foster consistency while minimizing harm to the region’s $206 billion economy. To address the state’s targets, the Water Authority’s Board today limited irrigation of ornamental landscapes and turf grass with potable water to no more than two days a week across the region. Member agencies have the flexibility to set their own watering days.

 “Cutting back on irrigation for ornamental landscapes will go a long way toward reducing outdoor water use,” said Maureen Stapleton, general manager of the Water Authority. “Two days is now the standard no matter where you live in the region. In some circumstances – such as before and after rainstorms – little to no irrigation may be possible for long periods.”

Today’s action by the Board also increased funding for conservation and drought outreach programs by $1 million. The money will be spent on projects that include: increasing advertising for the regional “When in Drought” campaign; enhancing a smartphone app so that users can report water waste across the region; expanding customer assistance by funding more indoor and outdoor water-use evaluations; creating a web-based, step-by-step guide for homeowners to convert to water-efficient landscaping; offering a water-use efficiency training program for landscaping professionals; and recruiting interns to help local member agencies with drought outreach. The initiatives will be rolled out over the next few months.

In addition to the state mandates, the Water Authority Board today also addressed MWD’s decision to approve a 15 percent water supply cutback to the Water Authority and its other customers starting July 1 because of reduced deliveries from the State Water Project and shrinking storage reserves.

Local investments in reliable water supplies such as the Carlsbad Desalination Project and independent water transfers from the Imperial Valley will allow the Water Authority to offset almost all of the reduction in supplies from MWD in fiscal year 2016. That means the Water Authority expects to have enough water supplies to meet 99 percent of the typical demands by its member agencies for the year starting July 1. However, Water Authority member agencies are under state orders to reduce water use by 12 to 36 percent, regardless of available water supplies. (Note: The chart of state mandated water-use targets for local agencies is available electronically at www.sdcwa.org/drought-response.)

The Water Authority’s longstanding supply allocation methodology during periods of shortage accounts for MWD’s allocations and locally controlled water supplies. Based on that calculation, municipal and industrial deliveries to the Water Authority’s member agencies will be reduced by approximately 1 percent compared to projected “normal” demands during fiscal year 2016. In addition, farmers who are part of a program that allows them to purchase water at reduced prices in exchange for decreased supply certainty during dry periods will have their designated agricultural water deliveries reduced by 15 percent, consistent with the MWD cutback level. Today, the Water Authority Board adopted penalties for holding member agencies accountable for staying within their allocation of water from the Water Authority.

State, regional and local drought actions are a response to extended hot and dry conditions across California. The state is experiencing its fourth-straight dry year. Snow water content in the Sierra Nevada snowpack on April 1 was just 5 percent of its historical average – the lowest since snowpack recordkeeping began in 1950 – which means there will be no significant runoff during the summer and fall when California’s water demands typically increase. 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.

Conservation efforts have been complicated by an extended period of abnormally high temperatures. The average daily maximum temperatures at San Diego’s Lindbergh Field have been higher than normal for the past 18 months in a row.

Current drought conditions are the most severe since the early 1990s, when the Water Authority was almost entirely dependent on MWD for water and MWD reduced supplies to the San Diego region by 31 percent for 13 months. Since then, the Water Authority and its member agencies have been steadily diversifying the region’s 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 Irrigation District in 2003.

In addition, the Water Authority and Poseidon Water 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 – and 24 percent since just 2007. Regional potable water use in 2014 was 12 percent lower than it was in 1990, despite adding 700,000 people to the county.  Over that period, more than 300,000 jobs have been added to the local economy, and the county’s annual gross domestic product has grown by 80 percent.

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.

To learn more about drought conditions and the region’s response, go to www.whenindrought.org. The website includes links to water-use rules by community, along with water conservation resources such as a home water-use calculator, a 140-page digital flipbook “eGuide to a WaterSmart Lifestyle,” and incentives for a range of water-saving measures, from rain barrels to low-water-use devices and appliances.