Monday, November 30, 2015 • 03:43

CWA initiates mandatory drought conservation measures

The SWRCB adopted an emergency regulation on July 15 which imposes a $500 fine for violating wasteful practice prohibitions and requires water suppliers to activate their drought response plans at a level which includes mandatory outdoor water use restrictions. photo by Courtesy photo.
August 27, 2014
The San Diego County Water Authority declared Stage 2 conditions of the SDCWA's Water Shortage and Drought Response Plan while notifying member agencies of a model drought ordinance Level 2 drought alert condition which includes mandatory water use restrictions.

The CWA board's unanimous vote July 24 did not include any cutbacks but triggered member agency bans on various uses. The provisions include limiting outdoor watering days and times, watering only during the late evening or early morning hours, eliminating the washing of paved surfaces unless health or safety reasons justify an exemption, 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 using a commercial car wash which recirculates water, serving water to restaurant patrons only upon request, offering hotel guests the option of not laundering towels and linens daily, and using recycled or non-potable water for construction when available.

"Most of it's common sense," said Ed Gallo, who represents the City of Escondido on the CWA board.

"We just want everybody on the same drought management plan," said CWA board chair Tom Wornham. "We thought this was an appropriate move to make."

Governor Brown declared a drought-based state of emergency in January and called for increased voluntary cutbacks. The state Department of Water Resources will provide its contract agencies, including the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which supplies water to the CWA, with only five percent of those agencies' State Water Project allocation. More than 400,000 acres of farmland are expected to be fallowed, and the statewide cost to agriculture is estimated at $2.2 billion. Some of the most severely affected communities have banned outdoor watering and implemented water rationing.

In 2008 the CWA developed a model ordinance. Level 1, or drought watch, includes voluntary cutback measures and applies when there is a probability of shortage which would require demand reductions to ensure sufficient supply. The CWA implemented Level 1 in February. Level 1 includes prohibitions against wasting water such as landscape runoff, washing paved surfaces, washing vehicles with a hand-held hose which does not have a shut-off nozzle, and operating ornamental fountains unless the water is recirculating. The February action also activated Stage 1, or voluntary supply management, of the CWA's Water Shortage and Drought Response Plan. CWA staff and board members felt that the region's investment in local supply, storage, and Colorado River transfers allowed for voluntary cutbacks.

Level 2, or drought alert, calls for mandatory restrictions and up to 20 percent cutbacks and is implemented if supply shortages are forecast. Level 2 includes all Level 1 restrictions and also limits watering to three assigned days per week during the summer and one assigned day per week during winter while limiting watering time to ten minutes per station in the absence of an efficient system.

The ten-minute limit does not apply to drip irrigation. "The idea is if you're using efficient irrigation we want to thank you," said CWA director of water planning Ken Weinberg.

There are also no prohibitions on the use of recycled water. "You're pretty much drought-proof," Weinberg said.

Level 3, or drought critical, includes up to 30 percent cutbacks, reduces summer watering to two days per week, and restricts the issuance of meters. Level 4, or drought emergency, includes cutbacks of up to 40 percent and prohibits most landscape irrigation.

In May, staff of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California informed the MWD board that MWD plans to take approximately 1.1 million acre-feet out of storage during 2014 to meet demands. That amount is approximately 50 percent of MWD's available storage reserves, and if the drought continues into 2015 MWD may allocate supplies to its member agencies.

On April 25 Governor Brown issued an executive order directing the State Water Resources Control Board to adopt and implement emergency regulations. "The power and authority of the state water board is for the waste and unreasonable use of water," Weinberg said.

The SWRCB adopted an emergency regulation on July 15 which imposes a $500 fine for violating wasteful practice prohibitions and requires water suppliers to activate their drought response plans at a level which includes mandatory outdoor water use restrictions. Failure of water suppliers to comply with the emergency regulation can result in fines of up to $10,000 per day. The emergency regulations are in effect for 270 days unless the SWRCB repeals them due to changed conditions.

"This is really an unprecedented action on the part of the state," Weinberg said.

The state's directives included a prohibition on applying water to any driveway or sidewalk unless the public health or safety is at stake, on landscaping runoff, on fountains unless the water is recirculating, and on washing cars or windows with a hose, which does not have a shutoff nozzle.

"The prohibitions that are listed are no surprise to San Diego," said Mark Weston, who is the City of Poway's representative on the CWA board.

Although the SWRCB emergency regulation does not apply to wholesale agencies, the prohibitions are encompassed in the CWA's model drought ordinance which has been for the most part adopted by member agencies and the CWA itself has an interest in protecting its limited water supply.

"The focus is really shifting to what if 2015 is dry," Weinberg said.

"We need to be looking at what happens next year," said Yen Tu, the chair of the CWA's Water Planning Committee. "This is a signal for all Californians about the severity of the situation."

The CWA action was based on the need to preserve storage supplies to minimize cutbacks should drought conditions continue through 2015 and beyond, the continued drought conditions in the San Diego region, and the need to assist member agencies in compliance with the SWRCB regulation.

"We need to prepare for a potentially dry 2015," Weinberg said. "The less water we use now, the more water remains in storage."

During the drought of the 1990s, the CWA went from a five percent cutback in November 1990 to a 50 percent cutback authorized in March 1991 which would have been implemented had significant rains that month not cancelled the severe action. "This is what we want to avoid," said CWA general manager Maureen Stapleton. "We really need that issue of methodical steps."

The CWA adopted its Water Shortage and Drought Response Plan in 2006. The WSDRP provides guidance on possible regional actions which can be taken to minimize or avoid impacts due to shortages. Stage 1 is triggered if MWD is experiencing shortages in its imported water supply and is withdrawing water from storage due to drought conditions to meet demands. A prolonged drought with a high likelihood of cutbacks from MWD, if not actual cutbacks, triggers Stage 2. Stage 2 focuses on supply enhancement such as spot transfers, although the CWA board opted not to pursue dry-year supplies at this time due to limited opportunities and the high cost (the current estimate is more than $1,000 per acre-foot).

Should MWD allocate supplies to its member agencies, Stage 3 which has mandatory cutbacks would be implemented and the CWA would use its allocation methodology for its member agencies.

Although Fiscal Year 2014 saw a 3.5 percent increase in potable water demand, regional water use has declined by more than 20 percent since 2007. "We've embedded conservation, we've embedded behavioral changes in our residences and businesses," Weinberg said. "The state has recognized that. They're not implementing a specific percentage goal."

The CWA also opted against imposing specific cutbacks. "We here at the Water Authority recognize that the ratepayers have made an effort for many years to conserve and to reduce their water usage," said Fern Steiner, who is one of the City of San Diego representatives on the CWA board.

"The focus is on restricting outdoor irrigation of conventional landscapes or turf," said CWA acting water resources manager Dana Friehauf.

"We're looking for San Diegans to do their part as they've done in the past," Wornham said. "What we're trying to do is make sure we're doing our part to match the rest of the state."

The restrictions do not involve cutbacks to Special Agricultural Water Rate customers, who receive a discount with the condition that they can be cut back before cutbacks are mandated for municipal and industrial rate customers. "The first time you would see that is if you got allocation cuts," Wornham said.

The CWA board also gave direction to staff to investigate the possibility of bulk purchase of synthetic surfaces to replace irrigated turf. MWD has a rebate of $2.00 per square foot for turf replacement while the CWA rebate of $1.50 per square yard brings the total rebate to $3.50 per square foot. The retail price for synthetic turf is between $8 and $10 per square foot.

"We need to figure out a way where this can be as simple for the public as possible," said Jim Madaffer, who is a City of San Diego representative on the CWA board.

"We certainly can look at it and report back to the board," Stapleton said.

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