By Joe Tash
For the first time since 2011, customers of the Santa Fe Irrigation District face mandatory water-use restrictions, including a limit of three days per week to water outdoor landscaping.
The district’s board of directors will consider a staff recommendation to declare a “Level 2” water shortage response at its meeting Thursday, Aug. 21. The move is needed to comply with a state water conservation mandate issued on July 15.
If approved, the restrictions would limit watering to early morning or evening; prohibit runoff or overspray from sprinklers; allow watering no more than three days per week based on a schedule established by the district; and require any water leaks to be repaired within 72 hours. (For the full list of restrictions, see below.)
The district, which serves residents of Rancho Santa Fe, Solana Beach and Fairbanks Ranch, declared a Level 1 water shortage response in February, after Gov. Jerry Brown declared a statewide drought emergency in January. The Level 1 declaration called for voluntary cuts in water use.
At the time, Santa Fe general manager Michael Bardin said he believed local water reserves would carry San Diego County through this year without the need for mandatory cuts.
But officials with the Santa Fe district and the San Diego County Water Authority — the district’s wholesale water supplier — said the statewide water shortage has worsened over the past six months.
“Things have changed and we need to go to the next level,” said Michael Hogan, president of the Santa Fe board of directors. “This is a serious situation. Hopefully, this winter will provide some relief. If this (drought) continues, we’re probably heading toward allocation (also known as water rationing) if we don’t get a good winter.”
Hogan pointed to two key factors that have exacerbated the three-year drought conditions during the first half of 2014 — a decision by state officials not to allocate any water from Northern California to Southern California, and record-breaking heat experienced by the state during that period.
As a result of hotter-than-normal temperatures this year, demand for water increased and water agencies had to pull more water from their reserves than anticipated, said Jason Foster, director of public outreach and conservation with the San Diego County Water Authority.
“The drought has deepened,” Foster said.
Those conditions led the water authority board to declare a “drought alert,” its second of four levels of drought response, on Thursday, July 24.
That action followed a July 15 decision by the State Water Resources Control Board to require water agencies and their customers to conserve water.
During the last drought, from 2009 to 2011, the water authority’s key supplier, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, cut back its water deliveries to San Diego County. While that hasn’t happened yet this year, local water officials will be keeping a close eye on the weather in the coming months, said Foster.
“If we get another dry winter, actual cuts to our water supply could come as early as next year,” he said.
If the Santa Fe board votes to approve the Level 2 response as expected, the water-use restrictions would take effect around the end of August.
Those who don’t comply with the rules face a warning letter, followed by a series of escalating fines for repeated violations, said Jessica Parks, Santa Fe’s public information officer. The fines could reach $500 a day for a fourth violation, she said.
The district plans to set up a hotline so residents can report suspected water-use violations, and district staff will be out in the field monitoring water use, she said.
The district also has rebates, incentives and assistance programs to help customers save water, she said. For example, district residents can request a free survey of their property by district staff, who will make recommendations and offer water-saving tips.
“We are here to help them in water conservation and being water-efficient,” Parks said. “We want customers to know we are here to help them, not to police them.”
The district did not have to fine any residents between 2009 and 2011, the last time water-use restrictions were in place, Parks said. “Everyone complied with the regulations.”
For more about the district’s conservation programs, residents can visit www.sfidwater.org/conservation.
The news about water supplies isn’t all bad. Hogan and Foster said the desalination plant now under construction on the Carlsbad coast may be in operation by late 2015, providing a “drought-proof” supply equal to 8 percent of the county’s current water needs.
The water authority also has invested in additional water storage capacity, such as the raising of the San Vicente Dam in Lakeside, which will allow the capture and storage of more water when Mother Nature does turn on the faucet.
SFID Mandatory Water Use Restrictions for Water Shortage Response Level 2
• Stop water waste resulting from inefficient landscape irrigation, such as runoff, low head drainage, or overspray, etc. Similarly, stop water flows onto non-targeted areas, such as adjacent property, non-irrigated areas, hardscapes, roadways, or structures.
• Irrigate residential and commercial landscape before 8 a.m. and after 6 p.m. only.
• Limit residential and commercial landscape irrigation to no more than three (3) assigned days per week on a schedule established by the general manager and posted by the District.
• Limit lawn watering and commercial landscape watering to no more than ten (10) minutes per watering station per assigned day. Irrigation run times shall be adjusted to avoid runoff. This provision does not apply to landscape irrigation systems using water efficient devices, including but not limited to: weather based controllers, drip/micro-irrigation systems and stream rotor sprinklers.
• Water landscape areas, including trees and shrubs located on residential and commercial properties and not irrigation by a landscape irrigation system, no more than three (3) days per week by using a bucket, hand-held hose with a positive shut-off nozzle, or low-volume non-spray irrigation.
• Use a hand-held hose equipped with a positive shut-off nozzle or bucket to water landscaped areas, including trees and shrubs located on residential and commercial properties that are not irrigated by a landscape irrigation system.
• Stop washing down paved surfaces, including but not limited to sidewalks, driveways, parking lots, tennis courts, or patios, except when necessary to alleviate safety or sanitation hazards.
• Watering of livestock is permitted at any time.
• Use recirculated water to operate ornamental fountains.
• Wash vehicles using a bucket and a hand-held hose with positive shut-off nozzle, mobile high pressure/low volume wash system, or at a commercial site that reclaims water on-site. Avoid washing during hot conditions when additional water is required due to evaporation.
• Serve and refill water in restaurants and other food service establishments only on request.
• Irrigate nursery and commercial grower’s products before 10 a.m. and after 6 p.m. only. Watering is permitted at any time with a hand-held hose equipped with a positive shut-off nozzle, a bucket, or when a drip/micro-irrigation system/equipment is used. Irrigation of nursery propagation beds is permitted at any time.
• Repair all water leaks within 72 hours of notification by the District unless other arrangements are made with the General Manager.