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Long Way To Go For Many San Diego County Water Districts To Meet State Demands

Drought resistant plants are on display at the Water Conservation Garden in El Cajon. June 1, 2015.
Nicholas McVicker
Drought resistant plants are on display at the Water Conservation Garden in El Cajon. June 1, 2015.
Long Way To Go For Many San Diego County Water Districts To Meet State Demands

Monday started the clock for every urban California water district to meet its state-mandated water cuts. Many local cities have a long way to go to meet those mandates.

San Diego needs to cut its June water use by 16 percent compared with June 2013. In April, San Diego cut its water use by 3.5 percent from April 2013.

Each month, every water district will have to cut the same amount compared with the same month two years before. Water districts have until February to come into compliance, otherwise they could be fined $10,000 a day by the state.


While so far San Diego has not even come close to its target, Mayor Kevin Faulconer sounded confident that his city can make it while speaking at a press conference Monday.

He said the biggest way to save is to cut back on watering outdoors.

"Like many other cities, the city of San Diego offers many rebates and water conservation services to all of its customers," Faulconer said.

The city's turf rebate money ran out in just a week in April, so no money is available now. When the new fiscal 2016 budget is approved, San Diego will offer $1.15 million in rebates. Turf rebates are also still available from the Metropolitan Water District.

The mayor said San Diego offers rebates for rain barrels that catch and store rain water and for converting an overhead spray sprinkler system to a system that uses less water, but those rebate programs have also been used up and will not be available until July 1.


The city does still offer free mulch.

Faulconer also said the city's Parks and Recreation Department is cutting its water use.

"We’ve eliminated irrigation at off leash dog parks, cut back water at city golf courses and reduced the operation of fountains," he said.

But cutbacks at golf courses haven’t started yet. Herman Parker, the department's director, said he doesn’t yet know how much water will be cut, but that the department is working on a plan to cut off water in certain areas on golf courses and reduce watering in others. Meanwhile some fountains, like the water park outside the County Administration Center, remain on.

Faulconer said his fiscal 2016 budget proposal also includes more money for drought-related public service announcements, additional code enforcement officers and smart water meters.

While San Diego has had mandatory water restrictions since November, other cities in San Diego County are only starting to limit watering lawns now. Rules passed by the San Diego County Water Authority limiting watering lawns to two days a week took effect Monday.

The rules do not specify which days of the week property owners can water. San Diego's public utilities director pointed out that omission makes the rules difficult to enforce.

The city of Poway enacted water rules on May 1 that do specify what days of the week sprinklers can run. Poway has to cut its water use by 32 percent under the state-mandated cuts.

Mayor Steve Vaus said he understands some residents are reluctant to cut back because they feel it’s the government’s responsibility.

"I get it, I really do," he said at Monday's press conference. "But today’s the day to take the word 'but' out of our vocabulary. Because while the bureaucrats in Sacramento and Washington, D.C. may have their heads in the sand, they also have their hands on the spigot. So we will stand shoulder to shoulder, ready to do whatever it takes to be good stewards of the water we do get."

Vaus, Faulconer and other local mayors toured the Water Conservation Garden at Cuyamaca College in El Cajon. Its 6 acres are filled with water wise plants from across the world, which executive director John Bolthouse said provide examples of drought resistant landscaping.

"You as homeowners, as HOA managers, as commercial property owners can utilize a demonstration garden like the Water Conservation Garden to show folks how you can save water," he said. "You know, drought tolerant, waterwise California native planting is not a compromise. It’s an enhancement to your landscaping."

As the region heads into the warm summer months, the state will be watching to see if local cities’ efforts to cut back are enough.