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Regional Investments to Provide Regulatory Relief Under New State Rules
Investments by the San Diego region to secure safe and reliable water supplies over the past 25 years are expected to provide significant drought relief to local water agencies and water users under rules adopted May 18 by the State Water Resources Control Board.
State regulators have replaced state-mandated conservation targets with a supply-based approach that considers each agency’s specific circumstances and water supplies – an approach the San Diego County Water Authority and others have sought for more than a year. The new regulation, in effect through January 2017, requires individual urban water agencies to self-certify their level of available water supplies based on three additional dry years and the level of conservation necessary to assure adequate supply assuming a third consecutive dry year.
The State Water Board has permanently prohibited practices that waste potable water such as:
- Hosing off sidewalks, driveways and other hardscapes
- Washing automobiles with hoses not equipped with a shut-off nozzle
- Using non-recirculated water in a fountain or other decorative water feature
- Watering lawns in a manner that causes runoff, or within 48 hours after measurable precipitation
- Irrigating ornamental turf on public street medians
Note: State prohibitions remain in effect against homeowner associations taking action against homeowners who are saving water on their landscape during a declared drought emergency.
The Water Authority will work with its member agencies to assess water supplies and demands per the state’s new formula. While it’s too early to predict the outcome, San Diego County will benefit from regional and local water supply investments such as water from the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant, independent conservation-and-transfer agreements for Colorado River water, and local water development projects such as water recycling facilities.
Even with the changed regulations, it’s important for homes and businesses in the region to use water wisely at all times and abide by state and local rules prohibiting water waste. For information about water-use rules by community, go to whenindrought.org.
In addition, residents and businesses can take steps such as replacing water-intensive turfgrass with low-water-use plants to improve the region’s long-term drought resiliency. For information and resources, go to WaterSmartSD.org.
The State Board’s actions follow an executive order by Gov. Jerry Brown on May 9 that directed the agency to adjust short-term drought measures to reflect improved water supply conditions while focusing on the challenges created by the potential for long-term drought. Hydrologic conditions in parts of California – particularly Northern California – have markedly improved since last year. Many reservoirs are above historic averages for late spring, and water allocations from the State Water Project are at 60 percent, the highest since 2012.
Improved supplies prompted the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California on May 10 to end drought-induced allocations to its member agencies, including the Water Authority.
Starting in June 2015, the State Water Board’s water-use regulation directed Water Authority member agencies to reduce water use by 12 to 36 percent compared to 2013 baseline levels. Total regional potable water use in San Diego County declined by 21 percent from June 2015 through February 2016, beating the state’s aggregate target of 20 percent for the San Diego region during the initial phase of emergency regulation. Conserved water has been stored in the recently expanded San Vicente Reservoir since May 2015.
In March 2016, state regulators certified the supply of potable water from the Carlsbad desalination plant as drought-resilient, reducing the regional impacts of the state’s emergency water-use mandates. Certification lowered the regional aggregate water conservation goal to about 13 percent, though water-use targets continued to vary by local water agency.
The Water Authority worked closely with the state to ensure that local member agencies benefited from investments in the nation’s largest seawater desalination plant, which opened in December and produces about 50 million gallons per day of high-quality, drought-proof water that reduces the region’s reliance on other water sources. The Water Authority also strongly advocated for a flexible and locally based approach to drought management that balances available supplies and demands.