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San Diego City Council OK's Tighter Water Restrictions

In this July 15, 2014, file photo sprinklers water a lawn in Sacramento, Calif.
Associated Press
In this July 15, 2014, file photo sprinklers water a lawn in Sacramento, Calif.
City of San Diego Water Conservation PSA
San Diego City Council OK’s Tighter Water Restrictions
The San Diego City Council unanimously approved the changes Monday to bring San Diego closer to the state-mandated 16 percent cut in water use.

San Diegans can now only water their lawns and landscaping two days a week, five minutes at a time.

The San Diego City Council unanimously approved the changes Monday to bring the city closer to the state-mandated 16 percent cut in water use. The updates to the city’s municipal code bring San Diego water restrictions in line with requirements set by the state and the San Diego County Water Authority.

Residents using water efficient devices such as drip-irrigation systems can water longer than five minutes, but San Diegans are prohibited from watering within 48 hours of at least 1/8 an inch of rainfall or between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.

San Diego Coastkeeper’s Matt O’Malley said the restrictions are great on paper, but compliance is key to hitting the city’s reduction goal. The city of San Diego has only cut back 3.5 percent from April 2013 to April 2015, according to the state.

"What we’ve seen so far across the board is you have very few places reducing, and I don’t think anywhere in the county actually meet their reduction measures,” O'Malley said in a phone interview.

Updating the mandatory rules will allow the city to step up enforcement, Public Utilities Department Director Halla Razak said at Monday’s council meeting.

Staff Report on Water Restrictions Update
A staff report details the water restriction changes approved by the San Diego City Council, June 29, 2015.
To view PDF files, download Acrobat Reader.

The provisions also allow the city to assign watering days and times, clarify language on the washing of pavement and define different types of fountains.

A representative from the San Diego chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects spoke against some of the updated rules.

"We are opposed to the combination of restrictions of a maximum of 5 minutes of spray irrigation and the restriction of irrigating no more than 2 days per week because the two together do not allow for the consideration of each site's unique conditions and needs and they reduce the landscape industry professional's ability to creatively and effectively meet the goal of conserving water," the group wrote in a letter to the council.

Councilman Scott Sherman said he also had concerns about the changes but said they were important steps to take during the current drought conditions.

"It's the situation we're in. We just have to deal with it,'' Sherman said.

San Diegans might also see less green around city parks and other facilities in the coming months.

The council action includes adoption of a new program to reduce the amount of water being used by the Parks and Recreation Department — which accounts for 60 percent of water use by the city government.

While actively used sections of city parks will still be watered three times a week, lesser-used parts will be cut back to twice a week. Areas where the landscaping is merely ornamental won't be watered anymore, which will lead to areas turning brown or yellow, Parks and Recreation Director Herman Parker said.

"They're turf areas that might be in front of community centers or adjacent to the sidewalk or curb areas,'' Parker said.

"You'll see areas of yellowing that might be around play structures or around picnic areas that are not heavily used,'' he said. "Our active areas where we have active ball-playing — soccer fields, baseball fields — and in some of our high tourist traffic areas, some of our historic resources, we want to do all we can to preserve those areas and keep them looking pretty good.''

The city has been imposing restrictions on water use since last year, but its regulations don't include all the orders by the state or San Diego County Water Authority.

Regulations already in place in the city set allowable times for people to water their lawns and vehicles, require leaks to be fixed within 72 hours, and specify that hoses only be used with shut-off nozzles and that fountains be turned off.

Councilman David Alvarez said if the restrictions don't help reduce consumption in San Diego by 16 percent, the city will have to consider even tighter regulations. He also said he wanted to explore incentives, like rate relief to reward customers who conserve, and rebates other than those offered for replacing lawns with drought-tolerant landscaping.

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