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Region faces worst drought in anyone’s memory

How will local water agencies cope with the governor’s new executive order?

Governor Jerry Brown last week issued an executive order requiring a 25% cut in water usage statewide. The Times Advocate interviewed several heads of local water agencies to find out how this may affect local residents.

The reduction of the Sierra-Nevada Snowpack for the 4th consecutive year means that the drought is intensifying. At last measure, the snowpack was 6% of normal (the lowest level since 1950) with nothing in the way of significant rain or snowfall on the horizon. Storage levels in major reservoirs statewide are at 50% of normal, or less.

The Department of Water Resources has declared that the State Water Project (SWP), which delivers about 40% of our region’s imported water supply, will only deliver 20% of contract requests in the 2015-16 water year. It had been almost certain that on April 14, 2015 the Metropolitan Water District (MWD) was going to take action to impose up to a 20% reduction in deliveries to its member agencies, effective July 1, 2015.

Governor Brown’s executive action, however, preempts much of what MWD, the SDCWA and local agencies can do.

The San Diego County Water Authority, which buys water from the MWD and sells water to San Diego agencies, greeted the governor’s announcement with approval: “Today’s call to action by the governor and the record low April snowpack emphasize just how urgent water conservation is for San Diego County and the rest of California. While we are still reviewing the details of this morning’s executive order, we support the governor’s leadership and will do everything possible to help our region comply with the mandates,” said Mark Weston, chairman of the Authority.

“San Diego County has prepared prudently for drought conditions, but we are entering uncharted territory after four dry years coupled with record high temperatures. The Water Authority’s board of directors meets on April 23 to set water supply cutback levels, but residents and businesses shouldn’t wait. Reduce landscape irrigation, trim shower times, fix all leaks immediately – and urge your friends and neighbors to do the same. By conserving now, we preserve our limited storage reserves in case next winter’s snowpack is as meager as this one,” said Weston.

Gary Arant, general manager of the Valley Center Municipal Water District (VCMWD) agreed, commenting: “This drought is unprecedented. The Governor’s response is appropriate and ads weight and urgency to the situation.”

VCMWD is the second largest water district in the area outside of San Diego City.

Greg Thomas, general manager of the Rincon Del Diablo Municipal Water District, which serves part of Escondido, told the Times Advocate, “Rincon Water and our customers have been diligently working on meeting the previous water reduction goals, through reduced use of potable water, increased use of recycled water and conversion to drought tolerant landscape. Rincon Water is currently evaluating the Governor’s

Executive Order and new requirements.

Thomas added, “Rincon Water is already in the midst of establishing drought rates, and has been in discussion with our wholesale supplier about potential reductions in allocations. The Governor’s new Executive Order will most likely change some of the allocation percentage. We will keep our customers informed through the press, news releases, updates on our website, and bill inserts and mailers.”

Elisa Marrone, Environmental Programs Specialist Utilities/City of Escondido told the Times Advocate, “We’re reviewing what the governor has said. We haven’t made any changes as yet until we’re done reviewing the executive order.”

Linden Burzell, general manager of the largely agricultural Yuima Municipal Water District in Pauma Valley, commented, “After reading through the whole text of the Governor’s Executive Order, I think that the incremental effect on the district’s agricultural customers will be fairly small, since we already anticipated about a 20 percent cutback in imported water supplies from the Metropolitan Water District/ San Diego County Water Authority relative to the same benchmark that the governor is proposing.”

Burzell added, “My guess is that Met’s and the Water Authority’s actions will turn out to be more significant than the Executive Order, since Met/SDCWA’s cuts are aimed at agriculture and the Executive Order mainly targets municipal and industrial customers. Also, Met’s and the Water Authority’s cuts could go much higher than the Governor’s 25 percent. How significant all of these mandatory cutbacks are depends very much on the weather. A hot summer will aggravate the problem and a cool summer will reduce the effect on local agriculture. Also, we don’t yet know how local supplies will be treated under the new rules. So as usual, we remain largely at the mercy of the weather.”

The specifics of how the governor’s Executive Order will be carried out remain largely a matter of speculation, said Arant, “At this point, we won’t know until the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) takes action to adopt the new emergency regulations directed by the Governor. We would expect that to happen later in April or perhaps May. We then will have to go through our process to implement them locally.”

Arant noted that as of August of 2014 VCMWD imposed a Level 2 Water Alert on domestic (i.e. non-ag) customers. This required several mandatory water use restrictions, including watering hours, run-off prohibitions, washing down hard surfaces, and repairing leaks with three days of notification. Notices were mailed to all customers, advising them of the new requirements, the fines and sanctions for repeated violation, and information about a water waste hotline.

District staffers are on the lookout for water use violations in the field. When they discover such violations, or when people report them on the hotline, the district sends out letters to customers. So far a number of advisory letters have been sent, but no fines have been needed to be levied.

Last month the SWRCB adopted new, more restrictive provisions, including limiting outside irrigation to a specific number of days during the week, serving water at restaurants only on request and hotels/motels giving guests the option of not washing towels and linen every day. The VCMWD board reviewed these modifications on Monday, and is expected to adopt the updates at its April 20 meeting.

So far, said Arant, district ratepayers have responded well to the crisis. “From August, 2014, through February, 2015, our M&I (domestic/commercial) gpcd (gallons per day per capita) has fallen from 283.8 to 115.3, or 59.3 percent. From an overall standpoint, our usage is flat, which has resulted in higher ag usage driven by the very dry and hot weather,” he said.

Arant added, “So, in our view our M&I customer response has been outstanding. Our growers, who use some of the most expensive water in the world for farming and only buy water from the District when they absolutely have to, have done well when you consider that with record heat and dryness with which to contend, they have held the line with usage in 2013, a cooler and wetter year.”

The governor’s executive order means that the whole state is, “in uncharted territory,” said Arant. “In the past, our actions locally have been triggered by MWD, then the SDCWA and then on to our customers through VCMWD. We were preparing for that process, anticipating MWD to take action to restrict deliveries at their upcoming April 14, board meeting, then the SDCWA taking action to pass the MWD reductions on to our M&I and Ag customers on April 23, 2015, with reductions to our customers to become effective July 1, 2015.

According to Arant, “Governor Brown’s action leaps over the intermediate steps of the MWD and SDCWA and leaves local agencies somewhat unsure of what their roles will be at this point.”

Arant is critical of state officials who target this individual drought without dealing with the underlying problems that have exacerbated it.

“We need a real state water master plan which identifies supply (wastewater recycling, seawater desal) storage (groundwater and surface) and convey- ance projects to maximize the use of our overall water resources and not the typical state report of late which identifies how much shortage, where it will occur and hopes for regional solutions to save the day,” said Arant.

Arant and others say it’s time to grease the skids of the regulatory process so that the next water supply project so that it doesn’t take more than two decades like the Carlsbad Seawater Desal Plant took. “If the legislature can wave the “magic wand” and exempt footballstadiumsinLA(2011,AB292) and Santa Clara for the 49’ers (2011, AB 900) and from CEQA in the name of “Jobs and Economic



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