Rancho Santa Fe and Solana Beach water district directors chafe at state’s mandated water-use cuts

Santa Fe Irrigation District directors are questioning the fairness of a state mandate that local residents must cut their water use by 36 percent, and they are considering changes to water-use restrictions imposed earlier this year.

The district may also reconsider its cooperative stance toward the state’s directive, if the state does not begin giving San Diego County more credit for the expense it has undertaken to develop new water supplies, such as construction of the new desalination plant in Carlsbad and water transfers from Imperial County, officials said.

“If it’s not fair and it’s not right, we have to fight it,” said director Greg Gruzdowich of the state mandates, at a board meeting on Thursday, Dec. 17. His fellow director, Alan Smerican, suggested that it would take a “revolution” to turn back the tide on the state’s stringent water-use mandates.

Board president Michael Hogan said in an interview after the meeting that the board could decide to support such measures as legislative or legal action, if the state does not make changes to its mandated cutbacks.

Earlier this year, in response to an emergency drought declaration by Gov. Jerry Brown, the state Water Resources Control Board ordered each water district in the state to cut back its water use by a specified amount. Because Santa Fe’s daily per capita water use is among the highest in the state, the district was ordered to cut its water use by 36 percent, the highest level of required cutbacks.

Santa Fe directors responded by instituting water allocations for the first time in the district’s history, meaning that each resident in the district’s service area of Rancho Santa Fe, Solana Beach and Fairbanks Ranch is allowed a set amount of water each month. Residents face penalties for using more than their allotment of water.

Use restrictions, such as limits on outdoor watering, were also imposed, accompanied by fines for violations.

The district met its 36 percent target from May through September, but conserved only 30 percent in October and 13 percent in November, according to district statistics. That means the district could be subject to fines of up to $10,000 per day for missing its target.

Officials said Thursday, Dec. 17, they expect to receive a warning letter before any fines are assessed. But they also questioned the fairness of the mandated cuts, especially during the winter months when water use is already at lower levels.

“Any customer with any reasonable property is going to be paying a penalty for the next couple of months,” said Gruzdowich. “The goals are totally unreasonable.”

San Diego County residents have objected to the steep cutbacks imposed on local water agencies, especially in light of the county’s own relatively good position when it comes to water availability.

Hogan said San Diego County, thanks to measures it has taken to develop new water sources and storage capacity, has 99 percent of the water it needs this year, and is actually storing excess water in its reservoirs. However, local agencies are still being forced by the state to cut back dramatically on water use.

At Thursday’s board meeting, Santa Fe general manager Michael Bardin said the state mandates amount to “social engineering.”

State water regulators, Bardin said, “don’t care about supply. They are trying to change the way we use water in the state of California.”

“They know exactly who we are and what we have, and frankly, they don’t like it,” he said.

One reason for the district’s high per-capita water use is the large estates in Rancho Santa Fe, many of which include large expanses of lawn and ornamental landscaping.

At their meeting in January, Santa Fe directors will consider changes to the district’s current water-use restrictions, which could include suspension of fines and penalties, according to discussion at last week’s meeting.

The board is also awaiting the issuance of proposed new regulations that would extend the current statewide emergency water-use mandates beyond their current February expiration. Hogan said the proposed new rules are expected by the end of the year.

He said San Diego County agencies want the state to give the region credit for the investments it has made in developing new water sources and storage capacity, which would offset some of the required water-use cutbacks. If no changes are made, he said, agencies such as Santa Fe will have to look at ways of pushing back against the state’s mandates.

“San Diego should not be punished for making investments in new, reliable water supplies,” Hogan said. “We’re not saying we don’t need to have a reduction in the county, but it needs to be adjusted for the (new) water supplies we’ve produced.”

“If the state doesn’t come out with reasonable changes that address our concerns, the board of directors will have a serious discussion about the course of action to take during the remainder of the emergency period. All actions will be on the table for review and possible change,” Hogan said.

Although Santa Fe did not meet its targeted cuts in October or November, district customers have still done a good job cutting back their water use, officials said.

Bardin said that since the restrictions were put in place, residents have cut daily use from a high of more than 600 gallons per person per day, to about 300.

“That’s amazing,” Bardin said. “I never thought that could happen.”

The district on Friday, Dec. 18, also put out a list of tips to help residents conserve. It can be found in sidebar below.

Water use cut only 13 percent in November — short of the State-mandated 36 percent cut

•Customers urged to redouble outdoor and indoor conservation efforts

Customers within the Santa Fe Irrigation District cut water use by 13 percent in November, short of the State-mandated 36 percent. To address this, the district is redoubling its efforts to work with customers to further reduce water use and avoid the potential $10,000 daily State fines.

The best way to stay within the allocation is to reduce landscape watering by limiting the amount of lawn and high water using plants, or allowing portions to turn golden. It is recommended that trees and large bushes be saved, but some other landscaping may need to be given minimal or no water.

•Reminder: Shut off sprinklers after rainfall. Be sure to turn off sprinklers during any rainfall and for the legal minimum of 48 hours after. In reality, many landscapes can go a week, ten days, or more without irrigation following rainfall.

•Decrease watering times. During cooler months, you can decrease the minutes for individual stations and decrease the number of days to once per week.

The cooler months are an ideal time to replace water-hogging landscapes. When affordable, installing a water conserving landscape can save water and be very beautiful. Sustainable landscaping also boosts property values in the long run.

It is also important to practice indoor water conservation: Take short, five minute showers; run only full loads of laundry and dishes in the dishwasher; and fix leaks.

•Take advantage of extensive and free water conservation services. All customers are encouraged to sign up for a free residential survey in which a licensed landscaper will come to the property and help the owner or landscaper to become more efficient with irrigation. The district also offers rebates on rotating sprinkler nozzles, weather based irrigation controllers, rain barrels and soil moisture sensors. There are also links to photos of model landscapes, lists of low water use plants, and more. All of this can be found on the district website at

“We realize that cutting water use in winter is difficult, since people already decrease landscaping watering and there is less discretionary water use to cut. But it is important that those who are exceeding allocations redouble their efforts to conserve,” noted Michael Bardin, general manager of the district.

Customers are also encouraged to like the Santa Fe Irrigation District on Facebook, or follow #SFIDwatersavvy on Twitter.