The San Diego County Water Authority’s Board of Directors on Thursday unanimously activated the next stage of the region’s drought response plan and declared a Drought Alert condition calling for mandatory water conservation measures to keep as much water as possible in storage for 2015. It is up to the Water Authority’s 24 member agencies to set appropriate restrictions for their communities.
“Water supply challenges statewide are serious, and they have led water agencies to withdraw significant amounts of stored water to meet demand in recent months,” said Thomas V. Wornham, Chair of the Water Authority’s Board of Directors. “We don’t know how much rain and snow we will get this winter. The only thing we can collectively control is how much water each of us uses. Every home, business and public agency should assess its water use and take additional steps to conserve to better prepare for a possible fourth consecutive dry year.”
As a wholesale water agency, the Water Authority plays an important role in coordinating drought response actions for San Diego County. The regional Model Drought Response Ordinance, adopted by the Water Authority’s Board in 2008, establishes 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.
The Water Authority’s Board declared a Drought Watch condition in February to encourage increased voluntary water conservation. Thursday’s move to a Drought Alert condition makes Drought Watch conservation measures mandatory, and it adds outdoor watering restrictions such as limiting landscape irrigation to no more than three days per week. During the months of November through May, landscape irrigation would be limited to no more than once per week. Mandatory conservation measures for a Drought Alert condition in the regional ordinance include:
- Limiting outdoor watering days and times
- Watering only during the late evening or early morning hours
- Eliminating runoff from irrigation systems
- Repairing all leaks within 72 hours
- Turning off water fountains and other water features unless they use recycled water
- Using hoses with shut-off valves for washing cars (or patronizing commercial car washes that re-circulate water)
- Serving water to restaurant patrons only upon request
- Offering hotel guests the option of not laundering towels and linens daily
- Using recycled or non-potable water for construction when available
Local rules vary based on regulations adopted by member agencies. Some member agencies already have implemented permanent year-round water-waste prohibitions or other measures to achieve water conservation targets. For instance, the city of San Diego, the city of Escondido and several other member agencies instituted permanent mandatory water-use restrictions.
Raising the Water Authority’s drought response level follows months of record-breaking heat and increasing concerns statewide about maintaining storage reserves for 2015 and beyond. Despite regional water conservation successes, extremely hot and dry conditions pushed up countywide water use an estimated 3.5 percent in fiscal year 2014 compared to the prior fiscal year. Rainfall at Lindbergh Field is about half of normal so far in 2014, and average temperatures at Lindbergh Field were the warmest on record (since 1850) for January through June. Even with this weather-driven increase, water use in San Diego County has declined 20 percent since 2007.
Because of severely dry conditions statewide, the State Water Resources Control Board on July 15 adopted a set of statewide emergency regulations focused on ornamental and turf grass landscapes that use potable water. The rules, which target individual water users and local water agencies, take effect on Aug. 1.
As part of its drought response plan, the Water Authority is continuing to ramp up its drought outreach campaign – “When in Drought: Save every day, every way.” – to encourage more water-saving efforts. The campaign includes ads, public service announcements, online communications and drought reminders provided by community partners in public places such as San Diego International Airport and Petco Park. The campaign is online at www.whenindrought.org.
The Water Authority is not anticipating reductions to its imported water supplies this year that would trigger mandatory supply cutbacks to its member agencies; however, that could happen in 2015 if conditions don’t improve. There is a likelihood of an El Niño weather phenomenon forming this fall and winter, however, forecasters are beginning to downgrade its strength, lowering its potential to produce heavy rain and snow that California needs this winter to stabilize water supplies.
While some California communities have faced reduced water deliveries for months, the San Diego region has avoided such drastic measures because of two decades of investments to diversify and improve the reliability of the region’s water supply sources, investments in Southern California reservoir storage and countywide water conservation efforts.
The San Diego region’s largest water supplier, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, is expected to withdraw approximately 1.1 million acre-feet of water from storage to meet demand in its service area this year, reducing MWD’s reserves by about half. If MWD allocates water to its member agencies next year, the impacts of those reductions will be moderated in San Diego County by regional investments in other supply sources, such as the Colorado River water transfers and the Carlsbad Desalination Project, which is expected to produce water as soon as fall 2015.
State and local water officials have been monitoring current drought conditions since 2012. After the start of a third straight dry year in 2014, Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought-related state of emergency Jan. 17 and asked for voluntary water conservation statewide.
On Feb. 13, the Water Authority’s Board went to a Drought Watch condition and formally activated the agency’s Water Shortage and Drought Response Plan, which outlines a series of orderly and progressive steps for the Water Authority to take during drought conditions. That plan played a key role in helping member agencies manage water supply challenges during the last major drought. The Water Authority went to Drought Alert condition in July 2009 and advised its member agencies to reduce their water use by an average of 8 percent in response to supply reductions by MWD. By the time water supply improvements allowed for the end of mandatory cutbacks in April 2011, the region had cut its water use by about 20 percent.