Drought Conditions End for San Diego County

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 on Jan. 26, 2017, 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.

Defining Drought

United States Geological Survey: “The word ‘drought’ has various meanings, depending on a person’s perspective…To a water manager, a drought is a deficiency in water supply that affects water availability and water quality.”

California Department of Water Resources: “Defining when drought occurs is a function of drought impacts to water users. Drought can best be thought of as a condition of water shortage for a particular user in a particular location.”

At the same, time, the agency committed to continuing its long-running efforts to promote water-use efficiency as a way of life in San Diego County though its Live WaterSmart campaign.

Read the Water Authority's letters to Gov. Brown and the State Water Board

The Water Authority's Board resolution was based on four key facts:

  1. The San Diego region is not experiencing drought conditions.
  2. San Diego region’s customers continue to use water efficiently.
  3. Allowing the emergency regulation to expire is necessary to maintain credibility with customers and businesses.
  4. Urban water suppliers throughout most of the state are not in drought conditions.

Read the resolution and the accompanying Board memo here.

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.

Water Authority Weighs in on Proposed Long-Term Water-Use Rules

In addition to drought emergency rules, state regulators are developing new rules for reducing long-term water use in California. The state’s draft regulatory framework issued in November contains some important goals – but also some proposals that could harm the regional and state economy.

The Water Authority, in conjunction with similar efforts across California, filed formal comments on the state’s proposed framework in December, in hopes of averting measures that would damage the state and regional economy. That letter encouraged state agencies to support investments in drought-resilient supplies, because investments in drought-resilient supplies are an important complement to efficiency that enhance the state’s ability to prepare for and manage extended dry periods.

In its formal letter, the Water Authority also raised specific concerns about the draft framework’s proposed residential water-use targets and performance measures for CII customers, which range from schools to businesses to hospitals. The measures could have significant practical and financial impacts on CII water users, local water agencies and the larger economy. The required CII performance measures include the installation of dedicated water meters for existing landscape areas and the performance of water-use audits or creation of water management plans for certain businesses and institutions.

The Water Authority strongly believes decisions about CII performance measures should be made in collaboration with industry experts and local water agencies. The Water Authority has been working with water agencies statewide to encourage the state to create a workgroup with representatives of business and institutional water users to craft a new approach that takes into account the unique attributes and needs of each industry and doesn’t unintentionally damage the economy.

Click here to read the Water Authority’s letter.

San Diego County has all the water necessary to meet the needs of local businesses and residents because the region’s ratepayers have 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 in 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.

In addition, the San Diego region has continued to embrace water-use efficiency since the state’s mandatory water-saving targets effectively ended for the region 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.

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.

The Water Authority’s water supply forecast has significantly improved with wet winter conditions, including a series of record-setting storms across California in January that benefited both statewide and local water supplies.

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. 

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