Water restrictions to impact area

Mandatory water cutbacks are on their way to San Diego County this summer.

The Metropolitan Water District, which supplies the majority of the water used in the county, recently voted to reduce the region’s water supply by 13 percent beginning July 1.

Drought and regulatory restraints on supplies from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta prompted the district to restrict the amount of water it will deliver to six Southern California counties for the first time in 18 years.

That means less water for the San Diego County Water Authority to distribute among each of its 24 retail agencies, including the cities of Del Mar and San Diego, and the Santa Fe Irrigation District, which serves Rancho Santa Fe and Solana Beach.

“We knew there was going to be some reduction in water supplies,” said John Liarakos, spokesman for the county Water Authority. “But it was down from what we thought in February was going to be a 20 percent cut.”

However, the Water Authority does not anticipate customers will feel the full 13 percent reduction because it has built up supplies from other sources, including the Imperial Valley.

Rather, cuts could range between 8 and 10 percent for commercial and industrial users beginning July 1, Liarakos said.

The authority’s board of directors was expected to discuss cutback allocations at their regular meeting April 23.

The board was also expected to consider moving from a level 1 to a level 2 “Drought Alert,” which would enable its retail agencies and cities to impose water use restrictions and specialized water rates.

Under this declaration, voluntary conservation measures would become mandatory, such as limiting irrigation to a few days per week in the early morning or evening, not filling fountains and not hosing down walkways.

Water rates are also expected to increase due to the supply reduction forcing agencies to buy more expensive water.

Metropolitan water rates are increasing an average of 20 percent. The San Diego County Water Authority is expected to consider water rate increases for September 2009 to December 2010 at its June 25 meeting.

Del Mar ratepayers will not feel the full rate hikes from the Water Authority and Metropolitan because the city is able to subsidize the increases with available water system funds, said David Scherer, director of public works. The proposed water and sewer rates currently up for approval increase about 6 percent to 7 percent a year.

The proposed water rates include drought-specific rates. However, those rates, which penalize customers who use more water than their allocation, were based on a projected 20 percent cutback.

Now that the reduction allocation looks like it will be around 10 percent, the City Council may not need to impose the more expensive rates because that reduction is achievable without harsh penalties, Scherer said. In the past year, Del Mar cut its water use by 10 percent.

However, which rate structure is imposed is dependent on the community continuing to conserve water, Scherer said.