Preliminary data released today by the San Diego County Water Authority show that the region reduced potable water use by 21 percent from June through February, outperforming the state’s aggregate regional target of 20 percent during the initial phase of unprecedented state water-use mandates.
“Thanks to many months of effort by residents and businesses, our region as a whole has saved enough water to meet the regional emergency conservation goal set by the State Water Resources Control Board,” said Mark Weston, chair of the Water Authority’s Board of Directors. “That’s a tremendous achievement, when you consider our region already had decreased per-capita water use by 39 percent compared to 1990, and the record-setting heat we recently experienced. However, conservation must remain a priority as we look toward summer and peak irrigation months; people still need to comply with water-use restrictions set by their local water agencies.”
Water Authority member agencies were under state mandates to reduce water use by 12 to 36 percent from June through February compared to the same months in 2013. The state measures compliance for each local water agency on a cumulative basis, even though water-use reports are filed monthly.
Through the first phase of the State Board’s regulation, ending February 29, San Diego regional water use decreased between 14 percent and 32 percent compared to 2013 during every month except February. Almost no rain fell in the region during the month and temperatures soared 9 degrees above average, compared to a cooler February in 2013 when high temperatures averaged a degree below normal. These factors combined with an additional day’s demand – February 2016 included 29 days – forced up regional water use by 5 percent compared to February 2013. Despite that aberration, successful water-saving efforts last summer and fall allowed the region to beat the state’s aggregate goal.
“Weather plays a huge role in outdoor water consumption, and we saw that clearly last month, which was the hottest February on record,” said Dana Friehauf, a water resources manager for the Water Authority. “We’ve had some rain in March, but as the traditional end to our wet season nears, residents and businesses must continue the region’s success with conservation, either through wise outdoor water use when it’s dry or by complying with state law to leave irrigation off during rain events and for a minimum of 48 hours afterward when rain does fall.”
The region is also benefitting in March from efforts by the Water Authority, local civic and business leaders, the San Diego legislative delegation and others who helped convince state regulators to add local supply credits to the emergency water-use regulation.
Last week, the State Board certified potable water supplies from the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant as drought-resilient, reducing the regional impacts of the state’s emergency water-use mandates. The state also adjusted conservation targets for some agencies based on their climate. Draft conservation targets starting in March are between 8 percent and 29 percent for Water Authority member agencies, with a new aggregate regional conservation target of about 13 percent compared to 2013. The State Board’s revised water-use regulation extends through October.
Lowered conservation targets across the San Diego region allow residents and businesses to continue conserving water while gaining flexibility to irrigate trees deeply, replace lawns with WaterSmart landscapes, and preserve fire-safe buffers around homes near open spaces. More information about the state regulation, including a comparison of local agencies’ initial and revised conservation targets, is at www.sdcwa.org/state-board-regulations.
As a wholesale water agency, the Water Authority coordinates drought response actions for the region. The regional strategy centers on decreasing ornamental landscape irrigation first to minimize the economic disruption caused by cuts to water used by industrial, commercial and farming operations.
The Water Authority’s Board is expected to consider updated drought-response actions at its regular meeting on March 24 based on the region’s water suppliers securing drought-resilient supply credits and climate adjustments under the State Board’s emergency conservation regulation. The State Board is expected to reconsider its water-use regulation in May after the Sierra Nevada’s peak snow conditions are reported in early April.
While precipitation and snowpack in the Sierras – which feed the State Water Project with runoff – are better than in recent years, rain and snow would need to be around 150 percent of normal for the state to emerge from the drought, according to the California Department of Water Resources.
For information about conservation programs, as well as water-use rules by community and drought conditions, go to whenindrought.org.