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Drought Deepens But No New Water Restrictions For San Diego County

Photo by Susan Murphy

San Vicente Reservoir in East County is part of San Diego's network of emergency water storage supplies. It was recently doubled in size to ensure the region has a six month supply of water in the case of an emergency or future drought, though it remains less than half full because of a lack of rainfall, July 16, 2014.

California’s new water regulations that put limits on outdoor watering days will have little effect on San Diego County because similar conservation measures are already in place here.

Four years of drought combined with record high temperatures have depleted water supplies in San Diego County and across the state.

Local reservoirs, which account for 5 percent to 10 percent of the county’s water supply, have dropped to 41 percent of capacity.

More troubling is the Sierra snowpack, at 13 percent of average, which provides up to a fifth of San Diego County’s water and a third of the state’s supply.

The county’s major source of water from the Colorado River remains stable, according to the San Diego County Water Authority, though snowpack levels are 80 percent of average for this time of year.

Still, no new water restrictions are planned, said Jason Foster, director of public outreach and conservation for the San Diego County Water Authority.

Mandatory water restrictions that are in place in the county are consistent with the new rules the state passed this week, Foster said.

“Basically what it means is we’re going to need to keep up our water conservation efforts that we’ve been encouraging people to do for the last year, plus.”

The statewide rules, approved Tuesday by the State Water Resources Control Board, require agencies that have not yet enacted watering limits to update their conservation plans within 45 days. If they don't, they will be required to comply with the new regulations that allow just two days of watering per week.

The rules also call on restaurants to offer water only upon request, and require hotels to give guests an option for daily clean linens.

The San Diego County Water Authority activated its Level 2 Drought Alert in July, asking for 20 percent conservation. The model ordinance calls for limiting watering to three days a week, repairing leaks within three days of notification and shutting off ornamental fountains.

Foster said they’ll continue to closely monitor water conditions and follow their progressive drought response plan.

"It's designed to make sure that we can get the water savings we need without overly disrupting the economy," Foster said. "We’ve been following that effort, and it’s been working."

“We’re going to draw down storage some this year,” he added. “We’re going to temper how much we’re going to draw down that storage through encouraging people to follow these mandatory water use restrictions that we have in place, but sooner or later we do need it to rain and snow again.”

Photo credit: San Diego County Water Authority

A majority of San Diego County's water is imported, as seen in this graphic. By 2020, local water supplies are projected to meet 36 percent of the region’s water demand.

The water agency is anticipating water cutbacks come July 1 of 10 percent or more from the Metropolitan Water District. Nearly 45 percent of the region's water supply comes from the MWD, which is set to discuss water allocations in April.

Foster said half of the cuts will be offset with the addition of the Carlsbad Desalination Plant, set to go online in November, along with expanded recycling projects and conservation efforts.

“We’re not anticipating having a level of cutback that would require us to change out of a drought response level or a drought alert level to something higher,” Foster said.

In the four years since a drought was declared, most regions in San Diego County have fallen more than a foot of rain below average. The winter season that wraps up on Thursday failed once again to veer the region off drought's course, and instead headed deeper into its deficit.

San Diego has received 1.63 inches of rain at Lindbergh Field since Jan. 1 — or 3.4 inches below the average for this period.

Statewide water supplies also remain low. Southern California’s largest reservoir, Diamond Valley Lake near Hemet, has dropped to 48 percent of capacity — a 30 percent decline from a year ago.

"It’s very important to conserve right now, not to wait until the summer," Foster said. "The more water people save now the more water we can keep in our reservoirs, both in Southern California and around the state to help us get through these warm summer months."

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