Metropolitan Water District Approves Water Supply Cutbacks, Significant Rate Hike

April 14, 2009

In response to continuing drought conditions and regulatory restrictions on water supplies from Northern California, water supply deliveries from the…

In response to continuing drought conditions and regulatory restrictions on water supplies from Northern California, water supply deliveries from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California to the San Diego County Water Authority will be reduced by 13 percent starting July 1.

As a result of actions taken Tuesday by MWD’s board of directors, San Diego County residents and businesses will face mandatory water use restrictions designed to ensure the region does not exceed its water supply allocation from MWD.

“The water supply challenges that have led to this allocation may continue for several years,” said Claude A. “Bud” Lewis, chair of the Water Authority’s board of directors. “Many of the voluntary water conservation measures we have been advocating for the past several years will now become mandatory. We are asking every resident, every business and every government agency to make a full and sustained commitment to reduce their water use.

“By working together, we can live within our water supply allocation, while also protecting our region’s $171 billion economy and the quality of life of our 3 million residents.”

The water supply cut from MWD is the first since the agency last curtailed water deliveries in 1992 – the last year of a six-year drought. The supply allocation will be effective July 1 through June 30, 2010. Last year, supplies from MWD accounted for 71 percent of the region’s water supply.

The Water Authority’s Board of Directors will consider a number of actions at its April 23 meeting to respond to the supply cut from MWD. Among the actions the board will consider:

“¢    Implementing water supply cutbacks to its 24 member retail water agencies and cities;


“¢    Declaring a Level 2 “Drought Alert” condition, which would enable the Water Authority’s 24 member retail water agencies and cities to impose water use restrictions and water rates designed to ensure supply reductions are achieved;


“¢    Using dry-year supplies to offset some of the water supply cutback from MWD.

In a separate action, MWD’s Board of Directors approved an average rate increase of 19.7 percent effective September 2009. The Water Authority Board of Directors is expected to consider water rate increases for the September 2009-December 2010 period at its June 25 meeting.

MWD’s actions to curtail supplies and raise rates stem from an unprecedented combination of water supply challenges gripping much of California. Regulatory restrictions to protect fish species in the Bay-Delta are dramatically reducing water deliveries from Northern California, and may remain in effect for years. A third consecutive year of drought is also constraining supplies. As a result of these factors, many of the state’s major reservoirs have been drawn down to very low levels.

MWD’s rates are based, in large part, on the cost of its waters supplies. As supplies from its less-expensive sources are reduced, MWD must rely upon more costly water sources to help meet demands. In addition, reduced water sales from allocations means higher water rates are needed on the remaining supplies to cover MWD’s expenses. In turn, the cost of MWD’s supplies to the Water Authority has a major impact on driving up water rates in the region.

On April 23, the Water Authority’s Board of Directors will consider moving to the next stage of its Drought Management Plan and allocate its reduced supply to its 24 member retail agencies. The percentage of the Water Authority’s water shortage will be lower than MWD’s allocation percentage, because the Water Authority has developed additional water supplies through transfers and by working with member agencies to develop additional local supplies and storage.

To address the remaining water shortage, the Water Authority will decide April 23 whether to declare a Level 2 “Drought Alert” condition. That would enable local retail water agencies to move to the next level of their drought response ordinances. Those ordinances authorize mandatory conservation restrictions and rate structures designed to achieve the needed water savings level. A Drought Alert condition is used to achieve any level of mandatory water savings up to 20 percent.

Under a Drought Alert – the second level of the Water Authority’s four-level model drought ordinance – voluntary water use restrictions outlined in the model drought ordinance become mandatory. Examples of these restrictions include not washing down sidewalks and driveways, watering residential and commercial landscapes only in early morning or late evening hours, and serving water in restaurants only by request.

In addition, more landscape watering restrictions take effect, including limits on how many days per week and minutes per day lawns and plants can be watered. Leaks must also be repaired more quickly, and decorative fountains and other water features must not be used unless they use recycled water.

Actual restrictions may vary by retail agency. For example, nine agencies have ordinances with provisions at this level that restrict or potentially restrict new water service unless the increased demand is offset. Some retail agencies also plan to use measures such as tiered rates or water allocations based on meter size or individual property characteristics (such as lot size, landscaping, number of residents) to help reduce demand.

“It’s critical for residents and businesses to check with their local water provider to make sure they understand the rates and restrictions in their community,” Lewis said. “It will help them learn what they need to do to help our region cope with the effects of the water shortage and minimize their risk of penalties or dramatic increases to their water bills.”

If the San Diego region does not stay within its MWD supply allocation, MWD will levy significant rate penalties on the Water Authority. These costs would be passed through to Water Authority member agencies that did not stay within their allocation from the Water Authority.

On the Web

Information on Drought Alert provisions and restrictions:

Links to Water Authority member agency drought response ordinances:

Water conservation tips, incentives and programs:

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  • The San Diego County Water Authority sustains a $268 billion regional economy and the quality of life for 3.3 million residents through a multi-decade water supply diversification plan, major infrastructure investments and forward-thinking policies that promote fiscal and environmental responsibility. A public agency created in 1944, the Water Authority delivers wholesale water supplies to 23 retail water providers, including cities, special districts and a military base.

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