Del Mar residents encouraged to increase water conservation

By Kristina Houck

Del Mar residents are doing a great job limiting water use, but the San Diego County Water Authority is asking ratepayers to conserve even more to help spare supplies during the ongoing drought.

“Del Mar is extremely water efficient — and we do appreciate that — but think about if there’s anything else that can be done, any other conservation that you can do that can help the rest of California,” said Maureen Stapleton, general manager of the San Diego County Water Authority, during the Del Mar City Council meeting on March 3.

After Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state drought emergency in January, SDCWA declared a Level 1 Drought Watch and called for voluntary water conservation in February. The Santa Fe Irrigation District — which serves neighboring customers in Solana Beach, Rancho Santa Fe and Fairbanks Ranch — also recently asked customers to conserve water.

SDCWA provides up to 90 percent of all the water used in San Diego County, serving more than 3.1 million residents.

In 1991, Metropolitan Water District provided 95 percent of the region’s water, with just 5 percent of water coming from local water supplies. After a drought that same year forced MWD to cut deliveries to the San Diego region by 31 percent, SDCWA began searching for other water supplies.

Today, less than half of the region’s water supply comes from MWD. Other sources include Imperial Irrigation District, All-American and Coachella canal lining projects, conservation, recycled water, seawater desalination, groundwater and local surface water.

“We’ve increased the reliability through diversification so that if any of these components go down or are significantly reduced, you can depend on other areas,” said Stapleton. By 2020, she added, SDCWA hopes to generate 40 percent of supplies locally, which includes conservation programs.

SDCWA ratepayers have drastically reduced their water usage in the last two decades.

In 1991, SDCWA used an average of 235 gallons of water per person per day. Today, SDCWA uses an average of 155 gallons per person per day, Stapleton said.

“It’s well recognized at the Water Authority that the ratepayers have done a really good job,” said Ken Olson, Del Mar’s representative to SDWCA. He presented a quarterly report to the council.

“We’re very reluctant to think about mandatory anything when the voluntary campaign looks like it’s going to work.”

Still, water costs for Del Mar have increased by 100 percent since 2007, noted Kristen Crane, assistant to the city manager. The city used to pay $365 per acre-foot and today it pays $732 per acre-foot, she said.

Much of the increased costs are attributed to SDCWA’s improvement projects such as the Carlsbad Desalination Plant, Twin Oaks Valley Water Treatment Plant and Emergency Storage Project.

City staff is currently working on cost-of-service studies and rate analysis for Del Mar’s water, sewer and clean water services.

To prepare for a future in-depth workshop with the council on proposed water rates, staff provided an introduction to the rate-setting process and discussed the local and regional dynamics impacting costs during the March 3 council meeting.

Del Mar imports nearly 100 percent of its water from SDCWA.

The city spends about $3 million each year for water service. About 50 percent of these costs are for external costs — such as the cost of water, operations and water treatment — that the city cannot control, Crane said.

Internal costs include the operation and maintenance of the city’s water system, which includes roughly 26 miles of water main pipe, four storage reservoirs, 664 valves and 275 fire hydrants. Funds also go toward the city’s water capital improvement projects.