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Some residents believe state’s water-use restrictions are all wet

Catherine Dickerson and Bill Stoops sit in the backyard garden of their Solana Beach home. “I’m advocating technology over deprivation,” said Dickerson. Photo by Joe Tash

As San Diego County residents take shorter showers and watch their lawns turn brown in an effort to meet Gov. Jerry Brown’s order of a 25 percent across-the-board statewide cut in water use, some local residents are questioning the fairness and necessity of the austerity measures.

Solana Beach residents Catherine Dickerson and her husband, Bill Stoops, and neighbor Don Billings all point to the fact that San Diego County does not have a water shortage like other parts of the state. Rather than falling in line with the governor’s order, they said, the county should fight back.

Across the county, water agencies have ramped up restrictions on water use; in most areas, residents are only allowed to water their lawns and gardens twice a week for a few minutes at a time. In the Santa Fe Irrigation District, which serves Solana Beach, Rancho Santa Fe and Fairbanks Ranch, officials have been ordered by the state to reduce water demand by 36 percent, or face fines of up to $10,000 per day.

In response, the district has imposed water rationing for the first time in its 92-year history. Residents who use more than their allotment of water over a two-month period face penalties, as well as potential fines for violating water-use rules.

That has left residents such as Dickerson, Stoops and Billings fuming.

“It sounds like a dictator,” said Dickerson of Brown’s order. “‘I’m going to tell you how to live your life. You can’t pursue your own values.’ That enrages me.”

Dickerson was so mad she started a website, www.watersandiego.org, which aims to inform county residents on water issues, and has begun attending water agency meetings. She and her husband recently showed a reporter around their property, which includes a large lawn, rose garden, koi pond and waterfall, and dozens of colorful fuchsia plants. The couple, who are now retired, created the garden with their own hands, toiling hundreds of hours in their spare time while working, she as a psychotherapist and he as an engineer.

“I’m advocating technology over deprivation,” said Dickerson. “The answer to the water problem, like it is to every human problem of supply and demand, is technology, not dirt and rocks.”

That’s why she contends that the new order of strict water cutbacks, supported by fines and penalties, should be abandoned. That way, each resident can decide for him or herself what type of landscaping to have.

“If someone wants rocks and succulents, it’s none of my business,” she said. “If I want hollyhocks and lisianthus, it’s not theirs.”

Billings stressed that San Diego County water agencies and their customers have spent vast sums of money over the past 25 years to create new, reliable sources of water. Those projects have ranged from lining canals in Imperial County to reduce water waste, to a new, privately funded desalination plant that will come on line in Carlsbad this fall. Local water agencies have committed to buying the drinking water produced by the plant.

“Sue the state. Riverside is doing it. Sue the governor. He’s making a declaration of a shortage. We don’t have a shortage,” Billings said.

The district could also refuse to follow the state mandates and pay the fines, which would be less of a financial hit than reducing water sales revenue by 36 percent, Billings said.

“Do your job, (water) board. If you’re not going to do your job, resign,” he said.

Michael Hogan, president of the Santa Fe Irrigation District board and a member of the San Diego County Water Authority board, said San Diego County water agencies have invested in many different projects to enhance the local water supply. As a result, San Diego County can now provide for 30 percent of its annual water needs, compared with 5 percent in the past. The percentage will continue to increase, he said, but the county still imports most of its water.

“The truth of the matter is that, looking out beyond one year, with regard to available supplies, they’re greatly threatened in the following years,” Hogan said. “We have to manage this from a multi-year approach. Conserving now under the governor’s mandate allows us the opportunity to manage our water supplies more effectively; that will reduce more severe cutbacks in the following years … and have the least impact on residents and businesses and ultimately on the economy.”

Water agencies have embraced technology, either adopting or studying a number of options, from water-efficient devices for homes, to recycling wastewater, which can be treated, blended with water in reservoirs, and then purified for household use, Hogan said.

“That’s what the (county) water authority and member agencies have been doing already, and there’s been a lot of progress,” Hogan said. “This doesn’t happen overnight.”

He rejected calls for the district to ignore the state mandates.

“That’s not an acceptable approach with the current board of directors, and I know of no agency that’s taking that approach,” Hogan said. “It would be contrary to my duties as a sworn public official to not make every effort possible to comply with the directives from the state.

“It’s a crisis, and I think people need to realize that,” he said.


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