Year-over-year water use in San Diego County declined by nearly 30 percent for the second straight month in January, another sign that the residents and businesses are taking additional steps to conserve water and comply with mandatory water-use restrictions during what’s shaping up to be a fourth consecutive dry year. The savings occurred despite continued high temperatures and economic growth putting upward pressure on water consumption.
Regional water use dropped by 28 percent in January compared to January 2014 – a savings of 12,000 acre-feet of water, enough to serve approximately 24,000 typical four-person households for a year.
“Clearly, the region is embracing the challenge to conserve, and we appreciate all the efforts to cope with ongoing drought conditions,” said Mark Weston, chair of the San Diego County Water Authority’s Board of Directors. “It’s critical that residents and businesses continue to limit their water use, particularly on landscapes, as the weather warms up. The more we can cut back now, the better off we will be this summer and fall.”
The decrease in water use last month followed a 29 percent decrease in year-over-year water use in December. It was achieved even though the average daily maximum temperature at Lindbergh Field in January was 4.3 degrees above average and rainfall was only 21 percent of normal. January was the fifteenth consecutive month of above-average 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.
January’s decrease in potable water use is based on figures reported to the Water Authority by its 24 member agencies, which also report water use data to the State Water Resources Control Board. Across San Diego County, water agencies have adopted mandatory water-use restrictions and they are preparing for the potential of reduced imported water supply allocations later this year.
The Water Authority’s largest supplier, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, announced on Feb. 9 that its board of directors likely would consider cutting deliveries to its customers at its April meeting. Cutbacks, if adopted, would take effect July 1. However, two decades of San Diego regional investments in water supply reliability will reduce the impact of any allocations by MWD by about half. Those investments include independent Colorado River water transfers and the Carlsbad Desalination Project, which is expected to start producing 50 million gallons a day of drinking water as soon as this fall.
“We have spent decades preparing for dry times, and we have an orderly plan to manage supply allocations while maintaining a strong economy and our quality of life,” said Maureen Stapleton, general manager of the Water Authority. “Conservation is a critical part of that strategy, and we thank everyone who has already made it part of their daily routine. Let’s all agree to do more in the days and weeks ahead.”
State officials have said it would take heavy precipitation and cooler temperatures over the next three months for the state to begin recovering from drought. Precipitation is about 84 percent of average at Lindbergh Field since the start of the “water year” on Oct. 1, though the region only gets a small percentage of its annual water supply from local rainfall. Precipitation in the northern Sierra Nevada is about average since Oct. 1. However, the Sierra snowpack is only at about 20 percent of its historical average for this time of year, and a scant snowpack means little runoff to meet water needs during the summer and fall.
The current allocation from the State Water Project – an important water source for San Diego County – is at just 15 percent of requested supplies. The figure may fluctuate up or down depending on precipitation over the next few months.
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.