Rancho Santa Fe water district customers asked to conserve water

By Joe Tash

In an acknowledgement of tight water supplies throughout California caused by an ongoing drought, the Santa Fe Irrigation District is asking its customers to cut back on their water use with a goal of reducing district-wide usage by up to 10 percent.

District General Manager Michael Bardin declared a “Water Shortage Response Level 1” after discussing the issue with the district’s board of directors at the board’s Thursday, Feb. 20 meeting.

The declaration calls for Santa Fe customers — who live in Rancho Santa Fe, Solana Beach and Fairbanks Ranch — to voluntarily water their landscaped areas only before 8 a.m. and after 6 p.m.; fix broken or inefficient sprinklers; and wash paved areas only when necessary for health and safety. Restaurants are asked to serve and refill water for customers only upon request.

“We expect (customers) to respond and do their part as they have in the past. It’s become a civic duty” to use water efficiently, Bardin said.

The district last imposed water use restrictions in 2009, when drought and environmental issues caused a water shortage in California. At that time, customers were directed to cut back water use by 6 percent, and landscape irrigation was allowed only three days a week.

The restrictions were lifted in 2011. District officials said customers had cut back water use by 20 percent.

Bardin said after Thursday’s meeting that water reserves available to the district’s wholesale suppliers, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and the San Diego County Water Authority, should allow Santa Fe and other local water districts to avoid mandatory water-use restrictions this year.

“I don’t see that happening this year,” he said. But the situation could change if the drought persists through next winter. “One more bad year and we might be there.”

The decision to ask Santa Fe customers to voluntarily reduce their water use comes in the wake of Gov. Jerry Brown’s declaration of a state drought emergency in January. Metropolitan and the county water authority then issued their own calls for water conservation, and Bardin said he expects other local water districts in San Diego County to do the same.

“We have to slow things down. This is starting to sound the alarm for everybody to be cognizant of it,” Bardin said.

Conserving now stretches out the San Diego region’s water supplies, and also helps ease the burden on water-strapped communities in Northern California, Bardin said.

As water customers are urged to cut back on their usage, many are asking why water rates continue to go up, even as consumption falls, said director Alan Smerican at Thursday’s meeting.

Bardin said the district has a high percentage of “fixed costs” that don’t fluctuate with the amount of water sold by the district. Examples are labor and debt service costs, he said. Therefore, the unit cost of water increases as the sales — and related revenue — fall.

“Generally, most of our costs aren’t going away just because we aren’t selling as much water,” Bardin said, noting that most local water districts face the same situation.

The Santa Fe Irrigation District offers several rebates and incentives for outdoor and indoor appliances and offers free residential surveys for its customers. Visit to find out more. To learn more about the current water supply conditions, visit the district’s website at