San Diego County Faces Second Straight Year of Water Shortages, Water Use Restrictions

May 28, 2010

Taking into account continued cutbacks to the region’s imported water supplies, the San Diego County Water Authority Board of Directors…

Taking into account continued cutbacks to the region’s imported water supplies, the San Diego County Water Authority Board of Directors voted today to continue current limits on water deliveries to its 24 member retail agencies through June 2011. The Board also approved remaining in a Level 2 “Drought Alert” condition for a second straight year, which enables member agencies to keep water use restrictions and other mandatory conservation measures in place.

“This winter’s above-average rain and snow prevented our current water shortage conditions from worsening, but we remain only one dry year away from potentially severe shortages,” said Claude A. “Bud” Lewis, Water Authority Board Chair. “We still face significant water supply challenges created by regulatory restrictions on water deliveries from the Bay-Delta and the lingering effects of the prior three years of drought. We must continue to use water wisely.”

The first year of region-wide water shortage allocations and Level 2 water use restrictions began July 1, 2009. Since then, urban water use has fallen 15 percent compared to a year earlier. Water Authority officials attribute the reduction in regional water use to several factors – improved water conservation by residents and businesses, suppressed demand due to the ongoing recession, and an average rainfall year following several years of below-average rainfall.

“The region has responded well to the need to reduce our water use,” said Lewis. “Our residents and businesses will need to continue following water use restrictions in their community.”

The Water Authority board’s decision to continue limited water deliveries, or “allocations,” means the region will need to continue to keep urban water use at least 8 percent below pre-cutback levels. Specific supply reductions within local agencies may vary, depending on how much of its total water supply each agency receives from the Water Authority and how much local water supplies it has available.

Level 2 water use restrictions also vary from agency to agency, but typically include restrictions on outdoor watering days and times, prohibitions on washing down paved surfaces, and repairing leaks within a certain time period. Some agencies also limit new water service or have escalating rates to discourage excessive use. The Water Authority urges residents and businesses to contact their local water agency to learn about any restrictions or rates that apply in their community. (Additional information can be found at .)

Although snowfall in the Sierra Nevada in Northern California was well above average this winter, pumping restrictions in the Bay-Delta significantly reduced any water supply benefits from it. The reduced pumping capacity means larger volumes of water are lost during wet years, greatly limiting the ability of Southern California water agencies to refill reservoirs to help cope with future dry years. (The Bay-Delta is a key water supply source for San Diego County, typically providing up to one-third of the region’s supplies.)

The restrictions are a major reason why California’s Department of Water Resources, which exports water from the Bay-Delta via the State Water Project, has announced the State Water Project will deliver only 45 percent of requested deliveries in 2010.

DWR estimated earlier this month that fishery restrictions will reduce deliveries by 600,000 acre-feet this year, which would have been enough water to meet the annual needs of 1.2 million households. On Tuesday, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction that lifts salmon-related pumping restrictions until mid-June. Water agencies are still trying to determine what effect the ruling will have on State Water Project deliveries. However, supplies are not expected to be significantly higher in 2010 because most of the time-period under which the most restrictive pumping restrictions were in effect had already passed before the preliminary injunction was issued.

In April, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the Water Authority’s largest supplier, approved continuing its current allocations of water deliveries to its member agencies through June 2011. The Water Authority is subject to significant financial penalties if it exceeds its MWD allocation.

The Water Authority’s long-term strategy to improve water supply reliability by diversifying the region’s water supply portfolio is offsetting some of the cutbacks from MWD. The Water Authority’s water transfer agreement with the Imperial Irrigation District, along with projects that lined the All-American and Coachella Canals in Imperial Valley, will provide nearly 165,000 acre-feet of additional supply this year. The Water Authority is also working with its member agencies to develop more local water supplies, such as groundwater and recycled water, to further reduce dependence on imported water.

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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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