By Joe Tash
For the first time since 2011, customers of the Santa Fe Irrigation District face mandatory water-use restrictions, including a limit of three days per week to water outdoor landscaping.
The district’s board of directors will consider a staff recommendation to declare a “Level 2” water shortage response at its meeting Thursday, Aug. 21. The move is needed to comply with a state water conservation mandate issued on July 15.
If approved, the restrictions would limit watering to early morning or evening; prohibit runoff or overspray from sprinklers; allow watering no more than three days per week based on a schedule established by the district; and require any water leaks to be repaired within 72 hours. (For the full list of restrictions, list at the end of this story.)
The district, which serves residents of Solana Beach, Rancho Santa Fe and Fairbanks Ranch, declared a Level 1 water shortage response in February, after Gov. Jerry Brown declared a statewide drought emergency in January. The Level 1 declaration called for voluntary cuts in water use.
At the time, Santa Fe general manager Michael Bardin said he believed local water reserves would carry San Diego County through this year without the need for mandatory cuts.
But officials with the Santa Fe district and the San Diego County Water Authority — the district’s wholesale water supplier — said the statewide water shortage has worsened over the past six months.
“Things have changed and we need to go to the next level,” said Michael Hogan, president of the Santa Fe board of directors. “This is a serious situation. Hopefully, this winter will provide some relief. If this (drought) continues, we’re probably heading toward allocation (also known as water rationing) if we don’t get a good winter.”
Hogan pointed to two key factors that have exacerbated the three-year drought conditions during the first half of 2014 — a decision by state officials not to allocate any water from Northern California to Southern California, and record-breaking heat experienced by the state during that period.
As a result of hotter-than-normal temperatures this year, demand for water increased and water agencies had to pull more water from their reserves than anticipated, said Jason Foster, director of public outreach and conservation with the San Diego County Water Authority.
“The drought has deepened,” Foster said.
Those conditions led the water authority board to declare a “drought alert,” its second of four levels of drought response, on Thursday, July 24.
That action followed a July 15 decision by the State Water Resources Control Board to require water agencies and their customers to conserve water.
During the last drought, from 2009 to 2011, the water authority’s key supplier, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, cut back its water deliveries to San Diego County. While that hasn’t happened yet this year, local water officials will be keeping a close eye on the weather in the coming months, said Foster.
“If we get another dry winter, actual cuts to our water supply could come as early as next year,” he said.