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Water Conservation Efforts Fall Short; California Considers Mandatory Restrictions

Photo credit: California Department of Water Resources

The San Luis Reservoir in Northern California, a major source of water for the State Water Project where San Diego County gets a portion of its supply, was 30 percent of capacity on July 9, 2014.

San Diego County has seen a double-digit increase in water use during the past six months, far shy of Gov. Jerry Brown's goal of a 20 percent reduction.

In the seven months since Gov. Jerry Brown called for a voluntary 20 percent reduction in water use, California as a whole has cut back 5 percent, but San Diego County residents and businesses increased water consumption by 10 percent compared to the same months last year.

“Now that isn’t necessarily because folks are now wasting more water. It is because it’s been hot and dry,” said Dana Friehauf, acting water resources manager for the San Diego County Water Authority.


San Diego County Water Use

San Diego County Water Use

Total potable use within San Diego County Water Authority's service area by agency and region from January through May for 2007, 2013 and 2014.

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When temperatures rise, so does water use, Friehauf said. The past six months in San Diego were the warmest ever recorded for that time period. May alone was more than 5 degrees above average at Lindbergh Field, according to the National Weather Service.

The extreme drought is expected to intensify as the region enters its hottest and driest months of the year, carrying a three-year rainfall deficit of nearly a foot.

The conditions are depleting statewide water reserves to record lows. Based on current water demands, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, where San Diego gets approximately 45 percent of its supply, is anticipating withdrawing nearly half of its water from reserves in 2014.

"This is the reason we made those investments in those reservoirs," Friehauf said, "so that the water is available in a dry year to help meet demand."

Friehauf said San Diego residents cut back voluntarily on water use between 2007 and 2011, but a different approach may be needed this time.

“I think what we’ve seen is not only here in San Diego, but Southern California and statewide, is the fact that folks have already conserved so much since 2007 that asking for a 20 percent reduction on top of an already 20 percent that they’ve achieved was maybe asking too much, perhaps,” she said.

The continuing drought and lack of statewide water conservation have prompted the California Water Resources Control Board to consider adopting statewide emergency regulations at its July 15 board meeting. The proposals include mandatory conservation measures aimed at reducing outdoor urban water use and tough fines for those who don't comply.

“We may need to go to mandatory water use restrictions this year depending on what the state of California comes out with their emergency regulation and also depending on water use,” Friehauf said.

If approved, the emergency regulations would go into effect on or about Aug. 1, according to the State Water Resources Control Board.

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