Local water districts bracing for state-mandated rules

Two local water districts are eyeing increased water rates and stricter policies to meet Gov. Jerry Brown’s executive order to cut statewide water use by 25 percent.

Officials from the San Dieguito Water District and Olivenhain Municipal Water District are closely watching the State Water Resources Control Board, which is scheduled to vote May 5 or 6 on a plan mandating how much California water agencies must cut back.

The latest version of the state water board’s proposal says the San Dieguito district must slash use by 25 percent. The Olivenhain Water District is facing an even steeper target: 36 percent.

“We’re waiting to see what happens, but preparing in the meantime,” said Kim Thorner, general manager of the Olivenhain district.

Given the prospect of a 36 percent cut, the Olivenhain district’s board at some point in May is due to consider higher “drought rates,” which are designed to stabilize the district’s budget to make up for lost water sales, Thorner said.

Thorner said the district could also hire interns and temps this summer to help notify those who are out of compliance with Level 2 drought measures. The Level 2 rules prohibit watering during the day and hosing sidewalks down, among other restrictions.

Additionally, the district could scale back outdoor watering days from three per week — the current Level 2 status — to two.

Officials from local water districts in recent weeks have tried to persuade the state to reduce their reduction targets, but to no avail.

Through different iterations of the state proposal, San Dieguito’s target was 25 percent, increased 3 percent from there and fell back to 25 percent. Olivenhain’s target increased 1 percent to 36 percent.

Representatives from the districts have argued the state water board has failed to give them credit for past conservation efforts that achieved a decline in water use.

Olivenhain district officials are also lobbying the state to revise the district’s target to 32 percent based on updated population figures showing more people in the area.

Under the state plan, agencies with the highest rates of per-capita water use must conserve the most. The state would determine whether each agency reaches its reduction target in future years by using 2013 water consumption as a benchmark.

Agencies that fail to comply could face fines of up to $10,000 a day.

Bill O’Donnell, general manager of the San Dieguito district, said the district is starting a new rate study that could lead to higher drought rates come fall.

O’Donnell said district staff will present a plan to the board on May 20 with various ways of grappling with the drought, such as a two-day-a-week watering schedule from April through October. The board could then direct staff to bring those measures back for adoption in June.

He also stated the district is planning for the state’s steep reduction target, but “hoping it’s lowered.”

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