Rancho Santa Fe water district looks to the community to conserve water in ‘dire’ drought conditions


By Karen Billing

California Gov. Jerry Brown recently offered a statement to all Californians as he declared mandatory water restrictions statewide: “The idea of your nice little green lawn getting watered every day, those days are past.”

A day after the governor imposed a 25 percent reduction on the state’s 400 local water supply agencies, Santa Fe Irrigation District General Manager Michael Bardin visited the Rancho Santa Fe Association board April 2 to provide an update on how the district is tackling this devastating drought and what the district is asking of its residents.

“I’d like to say the governor took a tip from me,” Bardin said. “The drought is very, very serious, it’s the worst in the history of California, the Sierra snowpack is at its lowest level ever and the water supply is in dire conditions.

“We’re asking everyone to reduce their water use by 25 percent. That is going to be hard, but it’s serious now. It’s time to sacrifice. The next steps are going to be painful — it’s not irrigating your lawn, it’s changing landscaping.”

Right now the district is at Level 2 water use restrictions, which are aimed at achieving water use reductions outdoors. Residents are limited to irrigation three days a week before 8 a.m. or after 6 p.m. on assigned days, for no more than 10 minutes per station unless water-efficient devices are being used.

The district is addressing the largest 10 percent of its users, those who use 500 to 600 gallons of water a day compared with the 100 gallons a day state average.

Bardin said roughly 15 percent of the customers are using 40 percent of the water, and that’s who they need to target. Many are estate lots with groves, but are still considered single-family residences by the State Water Resources Control Board, which ranks the state’s highest water users.

Bardin told the board that local water supplies are exhausted and imported supplies will be cut back this year. Last year, half of the water demand was met through stored supplies, the water “piggy bank.” He can’t predict what the cutback will be from the district’s wholesale supplier, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, but it could be in the 20 to 25 percent range.

“It’s a pretty dire situation. This is the hottest and driest conditions we’ve ever experienced, and even as we’ve reduced use, the conditions drive the demands up,” Bardin said.

The Rancho Santa Fe Association’s Committee on the Natural Environment has proposed creating an ad-hoc committee to address the need for water conservation outreach in the community.

“We know this has been urgent for a long time, and now it’s critical,” said RSF Association President Ann Boon. “We’re rolling up our sleeves.”

Bardin said the Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club has been a leader in efficient water use with its turf reduction project and said it is an example of what the community is capable of.

Through grant money from the Metropolitan Water District’s Turf Removal Program, the district offers several rebates and incentives for customers who change their property’s landscaping. Bardin said anyone interested in replacing turf should put applications in as soon as possible — additional funding will be provided in the coming year.

RSF Association board members Jerry Yahr and Philip Wilkinson both participated in the turf removal program, removing 30,000 and 15,000 square feet, respectively, from their properties.

Bardin thanked the board members for their leadership and setting a good example for the community about what the new future looks like — no more “nice little green lawns.”

“Having a big rolling lawn is no longer the norm, it isn’t sustainable, ” Bardin said. “We have a challenge ahead of us, but if we work together, we can get there. I’m eternally optimistic.”

To learn more about district’s rebates and free residential water savings checkups, visit and click on the conservation tab.