Water agencies enact stringent restrictions in drought’s grip

Lawn watering, car washes curtailed; little word from golf courses on their efforts

(North Coast Current)

(North Coast Current)

Alex Groves

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As California endures another year of difficult drought, Gov. Jerry Brown has put mandatory water restrictions in place and has been asking local governments and boards to pick up the slack in order to meet water conservation goals.

Brown signed an executive order April 1 requiring the state’s Water Resources Control Board and its subsidiaries to reduce their water usage by at least 25 percent.

Now, several of North County’s water districts are putting plans in place to make sure they’re in line with the state’s expectations.

Encinitas

The Olivenhain Municipal Water District, which serves more than 80,000 people in North San Diego County, approved an ordinance update May 27 that requires water district consumers to limit their outdoor watering to no more than two days a week, said Joey Randall, a representative for the water district.

The approved ordinance update includes a number of time and manner restrictions. For example, those served by Olivenhain will not be permitted to irrigate their lawns between the hours of 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. unless they are using a hose with a shutoff nozzle.

CUTBACKS AT A GLANCE

  • ENCINITAS
    Olivenhain district: Generally no lawn watering 8 a.m.-6 p.m.; only two days a week.
    San Dieguito district: Outdoor watering only two days a week; no residential car washing.
  • CARLSBAD
    Lawn watering no more than three days a week.
  • SOLANA BEACH
    Santa Fe district: No residential car washing.
  • SAN MARCOS
    Vallecitos district: Lawn watering no more than two days a week, watering times of eight minutes, allowed between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.

Randall said prior to the ordinance update, the Olivenhain water district had already approved a rate increase for its customers to stay in line with its Level 2 drought designation.

The purpose of the restrictions, Randall said, is to help the district achieve its own goal of a 32 percent water usage reduction.

“Based on residential gallons per capita per day, each agency was put into different buckets or different tiers as far as what percentage of reduction is required of that agency,” Randall said. “We believe that OMWD will end up in the 32 percent reduction bucket.”

Nearby San Dieguito Water District, which serves nearly 38,000 residents, finalized plans to meet the state’s mandatory restrictions, and those plans were approved by the district’s board on May 20.

The district is required to meet a 28 percent water reduction based on its per capita residential water usage levels from 2013, said Bill O’Donnell, general manager for the water district.

To meet that reduction requirement, the district has put itself in a Level 3 drought designation and limited outdoor watering to no more than two days per week. It has also required area residents to only wash their vehicles at car washes. Additionally, reported water leaks must be fixed within 48 hours, O’Donnell said.

In April, before the district adopted a specific plan for water reduction, O’Donnell expressed concerns with the state’s methodology for water use reduction.

O’Donnell said that countywide, San Diego County is faring quite well in terms of its conservation. He pointed to projects such as Carlsbad’s nearly operational desalination plant and the San Diego Water Authority’s Imperial Valley Water Transfer.

Facilitated in 2003, the Imperial transfer agreement gave the San Diego region an additional 277,700 acre-feet of water annually between water coming in from the Colorado River and water saved from conservation efforts on the part of the Imperial Valley, according to the San Diego County Water Authority’s website.

O’Donnell said that the across-the-board cuts required by Brown’s mandate don’t consider projects such as these and the impact they have had or will have on San Diego’s water conservation.

“The methodology hurts agencies that have been conserving water for many years and who have invested in water supply projects in the past,” he said. “It doesn’t give those agencies credit for that past work.”

Carlsbad

While other water districts are just beginning to enact plans, the Carlsbad Municipal Water District has already been operating under a drought-friendly set of procedures that will make it easier to adapt to the governor’s mandatory restrictions, said Mario Remillard, a conservation coordinator for the district.

Remillard said the Carlsbad Municipal Water District has had a Level 2 drought alert in effect since 2014. This has limited Carlsbad’s residents to watering their lawns no more than three times per week. Additionally, residents are required to fix any leaks on their properties within a 72-hour time frame for the sake of conserving water.

The district will now be required to facilitate a 28 percent water reduction overall based on its residential per capita water usage in 2013, Remillard said.

However, Remillard feels confident the district will be able to reduce its usage since most water district customers have avoided wasting water, he said.

So far, the Carlsbad Municipal Water District has seen most residents within its service area abiding by the drought regulations put in place and there have only been four offenders who the district has had to mail about their excessive water usage, Remillard said.

Remillard said the water district has not considered fining or ticketing its customers who do not observe water usage restrictions.

“We’re finding that people are generally making the changes,” he said.

However, customers may have to prepare themselves for even greater cutbacks. The maximum of three days of watering per week may get cut down to two, he said. He added that it’s important for customers to take it upon themselves to make changes in their lifestyles to help the Carlsbad water district and the state of California as a whole reach targeted reduction levels.

“We would like all our customers to make some changes, big or small, to help in cutting back to the 25 percent (reduction),” Remillard said.

Solana Beach

The Santa Fe Irrigation District, which services Solana Beach’s residential water needs, developed an ordinance that was approved by the city of Solana Beach on May 21.

The ordinance, which placed the district in a Level 3 drought designation, requires each household under the water district’s jurisdiction to reduce its water usage by 45 percent. The district’s water use reduction target is 36 percent based on its per capita residential usage.

Homeowners are urged to fix leaks immediately, take their cars to car wash facilities with recycled water and eliminate inefficient irrigation systems that result in runoff. Repeated failure to comply with water restrictions can result in fees of hundreds of dollars.

Dan King, Solana Beach’s environmental programs manager, was available earlier in the month but could not be reached for comment on the recent ordinance.

In an earlier interview conducted with the North Coast Current, King did note that the city of Solana Beach had already put some efforts in place to be more water wise, such as removing grass turf in various parts of the city and replacing it with drought tolerant plants.

San Marcos

Vallecitos Water District, which services San Marcos, will be required to scale back its water usage by 24 percent, less than the average mandated for the state by Brown, said Lisa Urabe, a public information officer with the district.

Urabe said the district, which is now in a Level 2 drought designation, will require shorter watering times of eight minutes for residential properties with sprinklers. Those properties will also be restricted to watering lawns no more than two days per week between the hours of 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., among a number of other restrictions.

Water district officials will also be patrolling residential areas of San Marcos looking for water waste and water runoff. Urabe said that, unlike the city of Carlsbad, she’s seen a number of water-use violations.

“Our staff goes out in the early morning hours and actually patrols,” Urabe said. “In the first two weeks, we found over 250 violations; most of that was from runoff.”

Urabe said the patrols are done just to identify instances of water waste and, when possible, to notify customers of the waste with devices such as door hangers. However, customers who do not change their habits and conserve water may be subject to fines. Those fines can be $100 for a first offense, $200 for a subsequent offense and $500 for every offense thereafter.

Officials from the city of San Marcos were not available for comment, but the city at large has put its own efforts into combating the drought.

The city has fought the drought through such efforts as discontinuing the irrigation of planters in traffic medians and discontinuing the watering of grass lawn areas that belong to the city.

San Marcos is also calling on its citizens to report instances of water-waste violation. Individuals who see instances of runoff or other forms of water waste can contact the city’s Public Works Department at (760) 752-7500.

Local golf courses

The North Coast Current attempted to reach out to various golf courses to see how they aimed to curtail water usage.

After multiple requests for comment, The North Coast Current was unable to speak with Encinitas Ranch Golf Authority, The Crossings Municipal Golf Course and Twin Oaks Golf Course.

Alex Groves is a freelance writer in the region

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