Water Authority Recommends Regional Water-Use Reduction Strategies

Short Title
Water Authority Recommends Water-Use Reduction Strategies
Board of Directors meets May 14 to consider options to help local agencies meet state-mandated targets and reduced deliveries from MWD
May 07, 2015

New regional drought-response measures recommended by the San Diego County Water Authority’s staff would assist local water agencies in meeting state mandated water-use reduction targets by restricting watering of ornamental landscapes to two days a week and boosting regional conservation and outreach efforts by $1 million.

In addition, recommendations under review by the Water Authority’s Board of Directors would establish local urban and agricultural water supply cutbacks based on reduced water deliveries from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and set penalties for local agencies that exceed their supply allocations.

The Water Authority’s Board will consider the suite of enhanced drought-response strategies at a special meeting at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 14. (Note: A news conference is planned directly following the meeting.)

“The policies we are recommending to the Board, along with the resources we offer for increasing water conservation at homes and businesses, will help local water agencies continue to drive down water use in the face of unprecedented statewide drought conditions and restrictions,” said Maureen Stapleton, general manager of the Water Authority. “After two decades of countywide water conservation efforts and water-use reductions, it will be very challenging to meet the state’s targets. But everyone in the region has a civic duty to take additional steps that squeeze the most out of each gallon we have.”

State, regional and local drought actions are a response to extended hot and dry conditions across California. The state is experiencing its fourth-straight dry year. Snow water content in the Sierra Nevada snowpack on April 1 was just 5 percent of its historical average – the lowest since snowpack records began in 1950 – which means there will be no significant runoff during the summer and fall when California’s water demands typically increase. Current hydrologic conditions are better in the Colorado River Basin than they are in the Sierra Nevada. Nonetheless, inflows into Lake Powell this year will only be about two-thirds of average, and the river basin remains mired in a multi-year drought. Conservation efforts have been complicated by average daily maximum temperatures at San Diego’s Lindbergh Field that have been higher than normal for the past 18 months in a row.

As a wholesale water agency, the Water Authority coordinates drought response actions for San Diego County to foster consistency while minimizing harm to the region’s $206 billion economy. The regional approach centers on reducing ornamental landscape irrigation first to minimize the economic disruption caused by cuts to water used by industrial, commercial and farming operations. Whatever recommendations the Board adopts on May 14, it will be up to local water agencies to determine the specific measures they will need to take to meet state mandates and avoid financial penalties by the State Water Resources Control Board.

On May 5, the state board adopted emergency statewide regulations that set water-use reduction targets for local water agencies from June 1 through February 2016. For the Water Authority’s 24 member agencies, state-mandated targets range from 12 to 36 percent compared to their 2013 water-use levels.

To address the state’s targets, the Water Authority staff recommendations for review by the Board include:

  • Limiting irrigation of ornamental landscapes and turf grass with potable water to two days a week across the region. Currently, the number of watering days differs by member agency.
  • Increasing conservation and drought outreach programs by $1 million. The money would be spent on projects that include: increasing advertising for the regional “When in Drought” campaign; enhancing a smartphone app so that users can report water waste across the region; expanding customer assistance by funding more indoor and outdoor water-use evaluations; creating a web-based, step-by-step water-efficient landscaping guide for homeowners; offering a water-use efficiency training program for landscaping professionals; and recruiting interns to help local member agencies with drought outreach and enforcement.

In addition to the state mandates, the Water Authority is also addressing MWD’s decision to approve a 15 percent water supply cutback to the Water Authority and its other customers starting July 1 because of reduced deliveries from the State Water Project and falling storage reserves.

Local investments in reliable water supplies such as the Carlsbad Desalination Project and independent water transfers from the Imperial Valley will allow the Water Authority to offset most of the reduction in supplies from MWD in fiscal year 2016. That means the Water Authority expects to have enough water supplies to meet almost all of the typical demands by its member agencies for the year starting July 1.  However, Water Authority member agencies are under state orders to reduce water use by 12 to 36 percent regardless of available water supplies.

The Water Authority’s longstanding supply allocation methodology during periods of shortage accounts for MWD’s allocations and locally controlled water supplies. Based on that calculation, municipal and industrial deliveries to the Water Authority’s member agencies will be reduced by approximately 1 percent compared to projected “normal” demands during fiscal year 2016. In addition, farmers who are part of a program that allows them to purchase water at reduced prices in exchange for decreased supply certainty during dry periods would have their designated agricultural water deliveries reduced by 15 percent, consistent with the MWD cutback level. The Water Authority staff recommendation also includes penalties for holding member agencies more accountable for staying within their allocation of water from the Water Authority.

The Water Authority anticipates depositing most of the water conserved across the region as a result of those efforts and others in coming months in local reservoirs, including the newly enlarged San Vicente Reservoir.

“Our region has been a model for the rest of the state in terms of reducing water use and developing drought-proof supplies, and we will benefit by being able to store conserved water locally,” said Dana Friehauf, water resources manager for the Water Authority. “This strategy will provide significant regional protections, especially if the drought continues into a fifth consecutive year.”

Additional information about the staff recommendations is in Board memos for the May 14 meeting agenda posted at www.sdcwa.org/meetings-and-documents.

Current drought conditions are the most severe since the early 1990s, when the Water Authority was almost entirely dependent on MWD for water and MWD reduced supplies to the San Diego region by 31 percent for 13 months. Since then, the Water Authority has been steadily diversifying its supply sources. One element of that strategy has involved securing independent Colorado River water supplies through a historic conservation-and-transfer agreement with the Imperial Valley in 2003.

In addition, the Water Authority and Poseidon Water are developing the largest seawater desalination project in the Western Hemisphere. The $1 billion Carlsbad Desalination Project is expected to produce 50 million gallons per day starting this fall. The Water Authority also has heavily promoted conservation, helping to drive down per capita water use in the region by 31 percent since 1990. Regional potable water use in 2014 was 12 percent lower than it was in 1990, despite adding 700,000 people to the county.

The combined effect of the region’s diversification efforts is that today MWD provides about half of the San Diego region’s water supply, down from 95 percent in 1991. Those investments paid dividends from July 2009 to April 2011 when the Water Authority reduced drought-induced cutbacks from MWD by nearly half.

The Water Authority’s Board declared a Drought Alert condition in July 2014 calling for mandatory water conservation measures, which include repairing leaks within 72 hours, adhering to rules for outdoor watering days and times and eliminating runoff from irrigation systems. Restrictions vary by member agency. For information about water-use rules by community, go to www.whenindrought.org. The website also provides links to water conservation resources such as a home water-use calculator, a 140-page digital flipbook “eGuide to a WaterSmart Lifestyle,” and incentives on a range of water-saving measures, from rain barrels to low-water-use devices and appliances.