Water use rises despite mandatory restrictions, according to Solana Beach water district report

Water use in the Santa Fe Irrigation District actually increased in October and November over the same period in 2013, despite mandatory water-use restrictions imposed over the summer, according to a report presented Thursday, Dec. 18.

The lack of progress on water conservation by Santa Fe and other San Diego County water agencies has put a “bull’s-eye” on the region’s back, General Manager Michael Bardin told the Santa Fe Irrigation District Board of Directors at its monthly meeting.

“The bottom-line message we’re getting (from state regulators) is that San Diego is not doing enough, we need to do more to reduce demand,” Bardin said.

The report showed that the Santa Fe district — which provides water to residents of Solana Beach, Rancho Santa Fe and Fairbanks Ranch — used 1,137 acre-feet of water in October, up from 1,004 during the same month one year earlier. In November, water use was 802 acre-feet, compared with 705 during the same month in 2013. An average San Diego County family uses about a half of an acre-foot of water per year.

In an interview after the board meeting, Bardin said that if water agencies in San Diego County don’t do more to conserve water during the ongoing drought, state regulators could decide to impose their own restrictions, which he said is the wrong approach. Such decisions are best made at the local level, taking into account the characteristics and needs of each community, he said.

Water officials are pushing conservation after Gov. Jerry Brown in January called for California residents to cut their water use by 20 percent in response to the state drought, which is in its third year.

Bardin said the spike in water use this fall appeared to be related to the unseasonably hot, dry weather. It came in the wake of restrictions on water use, including limits on the frequency and timing of landscape irrigation, that took effect in early September.

“We’re not seeing the response to the mandatory-use restrictions we thought we’d see,” Bardin said.

District staff is formulating plans to more aggressively get out the word about the need to conserve, which could include posters, billboards and presentations to community groups, Bardin said. Specific measures will come before the Santa Fe board for consideration at the panel’s January meeting.

The district may also work directly with its largest water users to ensure that they are using water efficiently, Bardin said. District customers should first learn how much water they use, then seek to cut back. Many customers may be overwatering, he said, and could reduce the amount of water they use without harming their landscaping.

“If you’re not efficient, you need to change your behavior,” Bardin said at the board of directors meeting.

Depending on how much rain the state gets over the next few months, water wholesalers such as the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California could decide to establish water allocations, or set amounts that its customers will receive.

At the present, the likelihood of allocations and more severe water-use restrictions appears to be “very high,” said Bardin, despite the rainfall that has occurred across the state in December. But final decisions on those issues won’t be made until next year.

Although water use in the Santa Fe district went up in October and November over the previous year, the district did lose one dubious distinction — that of having the highest per-capita water use in the state.

According to statistics released by the state in early December, Santa Fe’s per-capita use for October was 516 gallons per person, per day — third highest in the state. That figure was down from 584 gallons per day for September, which was the highest in California.

At the Dec. 18 meeting, the board also discussed holding some night meetings in 2015, to allow members of the public who work days to attend the sessions. The night meetings would be workshops on such key topics as setting rates, recycled water, and a cost-of-service study, which is used to determine future rates and is now underway.

District officials said the night meetings, which have rarely been held by Santa Fe, are an effort to increase transparency and access for the public.

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