Solana Beach water district moving to mandatory water use restrictions

By Joe Tash

Customers of the Santa Fe Irrigation District — including residents of Rancho Santa Fe, Solana Beach and part of Fairbanks Ranch — will face mandatory restrictions on water use starting Sept. 5, in an effort to save water due to an ongoing statewide drought.

The restrictions include a three-day-per-week watering schedule for all homes and businesses, a prohibition on watering for more than 10 minutes unless certain water-saving devices are in place, and a ban on watering between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. each day.

In addition, washing down paved surfaces, including sidewalks, driveways, parking lots and tennis courts, will be prohibited, except for health and safety reasons.  Water leaks must be repaired within 72 hours, and operation of fountains or recreational equipment that does not re-circulate water is prohibited.

The restrictions, called a “Level 2 Water Shortage Response,” were approved by the irrigation district board on a 4-0 vote at its meeting on Thursday, Aug. 21.  Director Andy Menshek, who will step down from the board when his current term ends this fall, was not present.

“These measures are not Draconian,” said district general manager Michael Bardin, noting that provisions such as fixing leaks promptly are simply common sense.

Thursday’s board action follows on the heels of the district’s implementation of voluntary conservation measures in February.

The district was required to move to mandatory water use restrictions by a state edict to conserve water in response to the drought, which is now in its third year.  Officials said record-breaking heat in the first half of 2014 has exacerbated the state’s water woes.

Properties with an address ending in an odd number are allowed to water on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday; properties with an address ending in an even number can water on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday.  Multi-family properties, condominiums and businesses can water on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

At Thursday’s meeting, Director Greg Gruzdowich asked Bardin why the district doesn’t allow property owners to determine for themselves which three days they will water.

“If everybody gets to pick their own three days, there’s no way for us to know if anybody is complying,” Bardin said.

The district will set up a hotline — 858-227-5801, Option 1 — that residents can call to report suspected water waste, and district staff will also be out in the field monitoring compliance with the regulations, said district officials.

For an initial violation, water district customers will receive a warning letter.  Customers could face fines of escalating amounts for subsequent violations, and the penalty for a fourth violation is $500.

The district last imposed mandatory water-use restrictions in 2009 during a previous California drought.  Those restrictions were lifted in 2011.

Jessica Parks, a district spokeswoman, said the agency did not have to fine any customers for violating water-use restrictions the last time they were in effect.

The district also has rebates, incentives and assistance programs to help customers save water, she said.  For example, district residents can request a free survey of their property by district staff, who will make recommendations and offer water-saving tips.

For more about the district’s conservation programs, residents can visit www.sfidwater.org/conservation.

Regional water officials have said that if California experiences another dry winter, water supplies could be cut to San Diego County by next year, which could trigger water rationing.

The Santa Fe Irrigation District has a four-step response plan for water shortages.  At Level 3, residents and businesses would face additional water-use restrictions, along with possible water rationing.  The district has never gone to a Level 3 response, Parks said.  Level 4 includes mandatory water use-use reductions of over 40 percent, water rationing, and a ban on landscape irrigation.

Also at Thursday’s meeting, board members decided that some irrigation district meetings could be held in the evening, starting next year, so that district residents who work during the day can attend.  Those meetings would likely include public hearings when such topics as water rates, annual budgets and employee or board member compensation are discussed.

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