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San Diegans praised for saving water but urged to do more

"We are navigating across the American West with unprecedented drought, uncharted conditions."

That was the dire warning from California Natural Resources Agency Secretary Wade Crowfoot during a news conference Thursday at the headquarters of the San Diego County Water Authority. He said federal water officials were worried too.

"Our U.S. reclamation commissioner that oversees federal water infrastructure in the West testified before Congress on Tuesday that extraordinary, never-before conservation measures are needed across the Southwest, including California, to avoid the collapse of the water supply system on the Colorado River," Crowfoot said.

But it wasn’t all bad news. In fact, Crowfoot had high praise for the ways San Diegans have stepped up, and how local leaders planned for days without rain, including the opening of the Carlsbad desalination plant. "I want to thank the leaders assembled here today and greater San Diego," Crowfoot said, "because the investments that you have made in recent years and recent decades have built your resilience to the conditions we now face, and frankly San Diego is better off than many of the states because of those investments."

San Diego County Water Authority Board chair Gary Croucher said: "Our per capita, per person use of water since 1990 has gone down 40%, and that's to acknowledge the residents who are here in San Diego ... but we still ask that we're part of the solution throughout the state."

Croucher also sounded the alarm on the state's water supplies. "If you've been updated in regards to the positions with where we sit with Lake Powell and Lake Mead, it is absolutely alarming," he said.

He said he wanted to make sure that San Diegans know there are resources to switch to water-friendly landscaping. "We have available tools for residents and others through our www.watersmart.org website," he said. "I encourage anybody to take a look at those."

Mayor Todd Gloria said he was proud of people who have conserved water, but he also urged San Diegans to act so that warnings won't turn into more restrictions. "This is serious, and we all have a role to play in helping find a solution," he said. "But what we don’t want to do is have San Diegans in a position where they’re caught by surprise that these worsening conditions around us escaped their notice and somehow we’re stepping in with more significant reductions, more punitive responses. ... We don’t have to get to that, because we know that San Diegans know how to conserve water."

Despite the high praise for efforts so far, Thursday's event was a call to action. The normally rainy months ended up being the driest on record dating back 100 years. So far the State Water Board has issued two emergency regulations in 2022, but, if conditions don’t improve, more could be on the way.

"San Diego in many ways has led the way but none of us are immune from the unprecedented drought conditions that we are experiencing," Crowfoot said. "So I’m asking, I’m sharing that San Diegans, businesses, residents need to step up to stretch their water supplies."