Statewide drought has local impact


This is the first article in a series about regional water supply and conservation.

Following two years of below-average rainfall, combined with decreased out-of-state resources and in-state water transfer restrictions, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger issued an executive order on June 4, 2008 declaring a drought for he entire state of California.

“What the governor’s done is just really highlighted the situation,” said Ken Weinberg, director of water resources for San Diego County Water Authority. “The conditions that the governor was looking at (were) over a long period of time. There’s no way we’re doing to be out of this situation any time soon.”

Compounding the problem of unusually dry seasons is the fact that California’s primary water provider, the Colorado River Basin, has been in an eight-year drought. Southern California, which also imports water from the northern section of the state, has also been impacted by legal rulings limiting the pumping of water.

“A judge ruled that the pumps were threatening a fish species and the operations of those pumps had been restricted to protect those fish, which means we get less water coming down south,” Weinberg said.

The Metropolitan Water District in Los Angeles coordinates distribution of imported water supplies for more than 20 million consumers to members, such as the San Diego County Water Authority, who in turns sells the water to local agencies.

San Diego County includes 23 districts and/or cities. While many districts rely solely on imported water, a few have other supplies available to them.

The Santa Fe Irrigation District (SFID), which serves the city of Solana Beach and unincorporated county land in Fairbanks Ranch and Rancho Santa Fe, has three primary sources.

Seventy percent of the district’s water supply is imported, 25 percent is locally controlled from Lake Hodges and 5 percent, used exclusively for irrigation, is recycled water from a local plant.

“We are very, very unique in that we have a local supply,” said Mike Bardin, general manager for the district. “By have a local supply, our customers are protected somewhat from the imported water pressures that we have very little control over.”

The Lake Hodges reservoir is currently about half full, which will last another couple of years, depending on rainfall, Bardin explained.

Last year the district adopted the Integrated Water Resource Plan, a project designed to reduce dependency on imported water by utilizing several sources.

“We want as diverse a water supply as possible,” Bardin said, comparing the strategy to an investment portfolio.

One of the district’s most significant measures has been to sign up as a customer with the Carlsbad desalination plant, expected to be operational by 2010. Eight of the 23 local districts are on board although the project is still in the permitting phase.

Bardin called the desalination plant a “drought-proof” option.

What the governor’s declaration means is that people need to conserve while agencies develop long-term solutions.

“We started a fairly large ad campaign in May,” Weinberg said, referring to the 20-gallon challenge. “We’ve seen some drop off, but it’s not at the levels we need. We really need people, during the summer months, to be efficient. That means we need to conserve water. The most important thing right now is to use less water.”

“This summer we’re going to use stored water on the imported side to get us through,” Bardin said. “What we’re trying to do is call for a voluntary 10 percent conservation by customers because every gallon of water we don’t use this year is water we can store for the next couple of years.”

Each year the SFID supplies more than 14,000 acre-feet of water to a population of 23,000. That translates to more than 4,606,000,000 gallons.

“What we’re really concerned about is that if dry conditions continue through next year, we’re going to have to ration water,” Weinberg said. “Rationing means that you get a set amount of water and if you go over that, there’s very severe penalties. There (are) also very severe restrictions on how water can be used.

“We’re not there yet … we’re asking people to voluntarily cut back, but we’re also taking steps if the situation continues over the next year.