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Water rationing could be on tap by next year, official says

BY JOE TASH

An ongoing drought coupled with above-average temperatures could lead to water rationing in Southern California by 2015, an official with the San Diego County Water Authority said Thursday, May 15, in a presentation in Rancho Santa Fe.

“This is a critically, critically dry year we’re experiencing now,” said Dana L. Friehauf, acting water resources manager with the County Water Authority.  Friehauf spoke at the May meeting of the Santa Fe Irrigation District Board of Directors, an agency which provides water to residents of Rancho Santa Fe, Solana Beach and Fairbanks Ranch.

On top of the drought, the National Weather Service has predicted that the month of May is on pace to be the warmest since 1896.

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Since demand for water tends to rise with the temperature, “It doesn’t bode well for water use,” said Friehauf.  “We’re really going to need to get the message out on conservation.”

State water officials expect the runoff from melting snow in Northern California’s mountains to be about 35 percent of normal in 2014, one of the factors leading to tight water supplies.

In order to meet a shortage of about one million acre-feet this year, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California will tap its reserve water supplies, Friehauf said.  (An acre-foot is the amount of water an average family uses in a year.)

But another dry winter could prompt Metropolitan to impose water allocations, or rationing, on its member agencies, such as the County Water Authority, said Friehauf.  The authority, in turn, would set allocations for its members such as Santa Fe.  Financial penalties would be levied for exceeding those allocations.

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If allocations are imposed, customers in districts such as Santa Fe would likely face mandatory water-use cutbacks and restrictions, said board president Michael Hogan.

Currently, Santa Fe has declared a Level 1 drought response, which calls for voluntary 10 percent reductions in water use by customers.

Investments in water storage facilities and conservation have generally shielded Southern Californians from mandatory cuts this year, although restrictions have been imposed in some parts of the state.  Since 2007, said Friehauf, San Diego County residents have reduced their water use by 24 percent.

“We’re going to be calling on them to do even more,” she said.

Santa Fe customers — along with other residents of the region — are also facing the likelihood of higher water rates.

Although Santa Fe imposed no rate increase in 2014 for the first time in a decade, and no rate increase is currently budgeted for 2015, future rate increases are likely, said Santa Fe general manager Mike Bardin Thursday during a discussion of the district’s budget for next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

While Santa Fe has worked hard to control costs and keep rates down — and has among the lowest rates in San Diego County — “I will tell you water rates are going to go up for everybody, including us,” Bardin said.

A public hearing on the district’s $37.4 million proposed budget for next year will be held on June 19, and the district plans to post the spending plan on its web site for public review.

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The district’s web site is www.sfidwater.org.  Information about water conservation can also be found at the County Water Authority’s web site, www.whenindrought.org.


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