Water use in the San Diego region plummeted by 29 percent in December 2014 compared to the same month a year earlier, evidence that many residents, businesses and farmers turned off their irrigation systems for long periods following a series of rainstorms. The savings totaled 10,636 acre-feet, enough to serve more than 21,000 typical four-person households for a year.
“People across the county capitalized on the wet weather and achieved an extraordinary reduction in water use last month,” said Mark Weston, chair of the San Diego County Water Authority’s Board of Directors. “That effort highlights our region’s long-term commitment to water conservation, which has driven down per capita water demand by more than 20 percent since 2007. While we won’t always have the benefit of rainstorms, we must continue to aggressively pursue every chance to conserve water indoors and outdoors.”
The dramatic decrease in water use was achieved even though December was the fourteenth consecutive month of above-normal temperatures in San Diego. Last year was the hottest year on record in San Diego County and California (dating back to 1895), and 2012-2014 was the driest three-year period on record for the state.
December’s decrease in potable water use is based on figures reported to the Water Authority by its 24 member agencies. Water agencies across the county have adopted mandatory water-use restrictions and they are preparing for the potential of a fourth consecutive dry year.
It would take a series of major storms over the next few months to pull the state out of drought. Precipitation is about 130 percent of average at Lindbergh Field in San Diego since the start of the “water year” on Oct. 1, though it’s important to note that the region only gets a small percentage of its annual water supply from local rainfall. Precipitation in the northern Sierra Nevada is just above average since Oct. 1, while the northern Sierra snowpack, a pivotal component of the state’s water supply, is at only 42 percent of average water content for this time of year. Officials with the California Department of Water Resources said in December that it would take 150 percent of normal precipitation in the northern Sierra for California to recover from the drought.
The initial 2015 allocation from the State Water Project – an important water source for San Diego County – has been set at 10 percent of requested supplies. The figure may fluctuate up or down depending on precipitation over the next few months.
The San Diego region’s largest water supplier, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, withdrew approximately 1.1 million acre-feet of water from storage in 2014 to meet demand in its service area, reducing its reserves by about half. MWD may impose water supply allocations in 2015 if conditions don’t improve this winter. However, two decades of San Diego regional investments in water supply reliability, such as independent Colorado River water transfers and the Carlsbad Desalination Project, will help reduce the impacts of any reductions in imported water supplies from MWD.
“While rainstorms over the past several weeks are welcome, don’t be fooled into thinking that the drought is over,” said Dana Friehauf, an acting water resources manager for the Water Authority. “Reservoir storage levels remain low, and it’s far too early to be certain about our water supplies for 2015. That means we all need to redouble our efforts to improve stored water reserves in coming months.”
Jason Foster, director of public outreach and conservation for the Water Authority, said the agency is working closely with its member agencies on a public information campaign that will ask the region’s residents and businesses “How Low Can You Go?” and encourage them to reduce water use as much as possible this winter. Online and radio ads will roll out in coming days.
“There are lots of ways to lower water use,” Foster said. “Go low by taking shorter showers, lower by promptly fixing indoor and outdoor leaks, and lowest by turning off irrigation systems as long as possible before and after rainstorms.”
As a wholesale water agency, the Water Authority coordinates drought response actions for San Diego County. The regional Model Drought Response Ordinance, adopted by the Water Authority’s Board in 2008, established four levels of drought response with progressive restrictions. The strategy was designed to foster regional consistency and to align demand with supply during water shortages, while minimizing harm to the region’s economy.
In July 2014, the Water Authority’s Board of Directors declared a Drought Alert condition calling for mandatory water conservation measures. Restrictions vary by member agency. For information about water-use rules by community, along with details about drought conditions and conservation-related resources, go to www.whenindrought.org.