The San Diego region posted an 18 percent decrease in urban potable water use in December and remains on track to meet the state’s aggregate regional goal through February, according to preliminary data released today by the San Diego County Water Authority.
Counting December’s savings, total regional potable water use has declined by 24 percent since state-mandated emergency water-use targets took effect in June 2015 compared to the state’s 2013 baseline period. That tops the state’s aggregate target of 20 percent for the region.
“Much less water is used outdoors in the wet winter months, and that makes it much harder to achieve significant water savings,” said Dana Friehauf, water resources manager for the Water Authority. “An 18 percent decline for a month when water demands are already much lower is a major achievement.
“The easiest way to save these days is to make sure irrigation systems are turned off to take advantage of winter storms in San Diego County.”
Landscape irrigation during periods of measurable rainfall and for 48 hours afterward is prohibited by state law. As a practical matter, irrigation systems can be left off for much longer following major rainstorms – weeks, and if conditions are right, one or more months. The benefits of rainfall can be extended by using rain barrels and cisterns to store water for later. The SoCal WaterSmart rebate program offers $75 per rain barrel (limit four) and $300 for a cistern of 200 or more gallons.
Applications for the rain barrel rebates in San Diego County more than tripled from 2014 to 2015, when more than 11,850 barrels were rebated through SoCal WaterSmart. For information about rain barrel rebates and other conservation programs, as well as water-use rules by community and drought conditions, go to whenindrought.org. The site also includes tips for indoor conservation, including how water use can be trimmed by shortening showers to no more than five minutes, fixing leaks as soon as they’re discovered, and running only full loads of laundry and dishes.
The State Water Resources Control Board has set mandatory conservation targets for Water Authority member agencies between 12 and 36 percent below 2013 levels. Those targets are scheduled to remain in place through February. The governor has ordered statewide water-use mandates be extended through October 2016 if drought conditions persist through January. He also has directed the State Board to consider modifications to its emergency regulations.
The staff of the State Board released its Proposed Regulatory Framework for Extended Emergency Regulation for Urban Water Conservation on Dec. 21. On Jan. 6, the Water Authority filed formal comments on the proposed framework, seeking to make the regulations more equitable for agencies who have invested in water supply reliability by developing drought-resilient supplies. In addition, the Water Authority called for the addition of language that would require the state’s emergency water-use regulations to be reviewed by April to ensure that they are appropriate for the amount of rain and snow that falls this winter.
More information about the Water Authority’s proposal, including the Jan. 6 letter, is at www.sdcwa.org/state-board-regulations.
While regulations are under review, snowfall in the Sierra Nevada is gaining statewide attention given the low water storage levels in Northern California. Snowmelt and precipitation levels in the northern half of the state will be critical, because both will feed the State Water Project with runoff, providing California with water supplies beyond the rainy season. The northern Sierra snowpack was above average in late December, and strong El Niño conditions have fueled more storms in recent weeks. While the signs are positive, more than one wet winter will likely be needed for the state to emerge from the drought, which is among the most severe in recorded history.
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.