San Diegos across the region will face fresh local drought restrictions under a state mandate that goes into effect Friday.
Rules vary by customer’s water retailer, but generally include controls on outdoor watering and bans on home car washing. For example, in the city of San Diego, irrigation of nonagricultural lands is limited to three days a week before 10 a.m. or after 6 p.m. When watering by hand with a hose, it must be equipped with a shut-off nozzle or connected to a sprinkler system with a timer.
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The Helix Water District — which serves 56,500 customers in the cities of La Mesa, Lemon Grove and El Cajon, and the communities of Spring Valley and Lakeside — must also limit outdoor watering to three days a week and shut down all ornamental fountains with no recirculating water.
The state has also enacted a blanket ban on irrigating “non-functional” lawns by governments and commercial and industrial users, e.g. B. along the central reservation of motorways and in commercial areas. The rule does not apply to golf courses, athletic fields, or lawns used for civic activities. It also does not affect the use of recycled water.
The goal is to reduce water consumption in each supply area by 20 percent.
“We are asking San Diego to take these steps now so that we can help prevent a worse situation in the near future,” Juan Guerreiro, director of the San Diego Public Utilities Department, said in a statement. “Water is a precious resource and we must use our water wisely.”
Reporter Joshua Emerson Smith discusses this story in the San Diego News Fix:
Gov. Gavin Newsom spearheaded the new rules after calling for a voluntary 15 percent cut earlier this year. Instead, water use increased across the state amid prolonged drought.
The guidelines, approved by the state Water Resources Control Board last month, specifically require water agencies to implement what is known as “Stage 2 drought,” a series of bans detailed in local contingency plans required by the state.
The city of San Diego has already introduced a number of permanent restrictions, such as B. washing down sidewalks, driveways and other paved surfaces, unless it is to “mitigate immediate safety or hygiene risks”.
The San Diego County Water Authority has repeatedly said the region is not currently in a drought because it has priority rights to the Colorado River and access to desalinated water from a facility in Carlsbad. In fact, the wholesaler currently uses very little, if any, water from the State Water Project, which is fed from the vulnerable Sacramento River Delta.
Officials in Sacramento have dismissed the idea that San Diego should pass mandatory drought restrictions, even though the region has reduced its water use by a staggering 40 percent since a peak in 2007.
While the region has been a showcase for drought protection, water boards have seen their revenues plummet as residents uprooted lawns and installed water-saving devices. In response, authorities increased rates to cover fixed costs such as routine maintenance and debt payments.
As San Diego’s water managers are now forced to fund ever-greater environmental stewardship, many fear it could further deplete their annual budgets, which would require even bigger tariff hikes.
The Water Authority, for example, increased its wholesale prices for treated water from $920 per acre foot in 2010 to $1,736 per acre foot last year. This year, the agency increased its prices by a further 3.6 percent, and a further 5.2 percent are planned for 2023.
The situation caught many San Diego residents by surprise. Residents have installed drought-tolerant landscaping only to see their bills stay the same or, in some cases, increase. Low-income communities, which already have basic necessities, have been hit hardest.
Some water managers have asked the state for tax breaks. So far, officials in Sacramento have yet to comply with these requests.
The governor has signaled even tougher water cuts could be on the horizon if water savings don’t happen this summer. It’s still unclear whether Newsom will attempt anything as bold as the government at the time. Jerry Brown’s 2015 mandatory water cut of 25 percent.