In spite of dry December, water officials don't foresee shortage

Although California is experiencing a drier than normal winter so far, San Diego County has enough water to meet demand in 2018 and into next year, said local water officials.

San Diego County has enough water to meet its needs due to a number of factors, said Jeff Stephenson, principal water resources specialist with the San Diego County Water Authority, the region's water wholesaler.

Those factors include a diversified supply - such as the desalination plant in Carlsbad and water from Imperial County - as well as water saved in storage reservoirs during last year's rainy winter, said Stephenson.

Stephenson said it is too early to tell how this year's rainy season will shape up, since state officials normally wait until April to assess water supplies based on such factors as the Northern California snowpack, rainfall totals and reservoir levels.

"It's been dry so far, we're behind, but we're not ready yet to say it's a dry winter, it's too early," he said.

The Santa Fe Irrigation District, which provides water to residents and businesses in Solana Beach, Rancho Santa Fe and Fairbanks Ranch, also expects to be able to meet customer demand with its current water supplies for 2018 and even into next year.

"We got off to a slow start (to the rainy season) but it seems to be picking up," especially in Northern California, said Mike Bardin, general manager of the Santa Fe Irrigation District (SFID).

Santa Fe has two principal sources of water: one is an imported supply through the county water authority and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. The imported water comes from the state water project in Northern California, and from the Colorado River basin. Santa Fe also gets a share of water stored in Lake Hodges, which captured runoff during last year's rainy winter.

"Our imported supplies are pretty robust and we have local water as well. It's good on both fronts," said Bardin.

Last winter, which was particularly rainy throughout the state, marked the end of a five-year drought that had afflicted California. The drought led to emergency water-use restrictions imposed by the state. Locally, customers of SFID faced water rationing for the first time in the district's 90-plus-year history.

SFID officially declared an end to the drought last March, when all remaining mandatory and voluntary use restrictions were lifted.

During the 12 months ending on Sept. 30, 2017, the state experienced a record 94.7 inches of precipitation in the Northern Sierra region. Snowpack in the Sierras leads to runoff that feeds aqueducts throughout the state.

In contrast, October 2017 was dry in the Sierras, and December was one of the driest months on record. Locally, there was no measurable rainfall in the Lake Hodges watershed during December, when the average rainfall for that month is 2.1 inches.

A chart on the county water authority website notes that as of Jan. 21, the snowpack in the Sierras was measured at just 23 percent of normal, although runoff from the Sacramento River was forecast at 89 percent of normal. Snowpack in the Colorado River basin was at 66 percent of normal.

The good news, according to Bardin, is that water saved in Lake Hodges and other San Diego County reservoirs during last year's rainy season can be tapped if needed this year.

While there are currently no water-use restrictions in place for SFID's customers, water officials urge residents to avoid wasting water.

"Water is a precious resource in California, we ask people to use it wisely all the time," Bardin said.

One reason that San Diego County is in good shape when it comes to having adequate supplies for the coming year is that residents stepped up their conservation efforts during the drought, said Stephenson, and they have continued their water-wise ways.

"It's become almost like a lifestyle thing in San Diego and Southern California," said Stephenson. "We live in a Mediterranean climate, we have to continue to practice water-use efficiency whether it's a wet year or a dry year."

Stephenson said the water authority's message to the region is, "We're good for this year, we have plenty of supply, and keep up the good work on water-use efficiency that's being practiced."

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