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Encinitas water districts ordered to slash use

The owner of this dirt front yard in Cardiff saves water to combat the drought. Local water districts have to cut water use under a state plan.
The owner of this dirt front yard in Cardiff saves water to combat the drought. Local water districts have to cut water use under a state plan.
( / Jared Whitlock)

The two water districts that serve Encinitas will need to slash their water use under mandatory measures approved on May 5 by the California Water Resources Control Board.

With cuts ranging from 8 to 36 percent throughout the state, the San Dieguito Water District is being ordered to reduce use by 28 percent. The Olivenhain Municipal Water District’s target: 36 percent.

“Times are a little crazy, but we’ll get through it,” said Bill O’Donnell, general manager of the San Dieguito district.

To grapple with the steep cutback, the San Dieguito district board on May 20 will consider higher “drought rates,” which are designed to stabilize the district’s budget to make up for lost water sales.

Currently, the average residential bill is $122.13 bi-monthly, and if the board approves the drought rates, this would jump 9.3 percent to $133.45.

The new rates, if adopted, would likely take effect Aug. 1, said O’Donnell.

The district board at its May 20 meeting will also vote on whether to up the Level 2 drought status to Level 3.

On top of Level 2 restrictions like the ban on watering landscaping during the day, Level 3 would require that residents repair water leaks within 48 hours, rather than the current 72-hour rule. And it would mandate that people stop washing their cars, except at commercial carwashes that use recycled water.

As a separate measure, O’Donnell said the district is also likely to limit landscape watering this summer to two days a week. The current restriction is three days a week.

Last week, the district was planning to start a new rate study with the prospect of increasing water rates in the fall. O’Donnell said the district decided to instead put consideration of drought rates on the May 20 board agenda after discussing the matter with a rate consultant.

“We looked at the rates a little bit closer and it will be my recommendation to implement drought rates,” O’Donnell said.

The new state rules are expected to take effect May 15 and will last through at least February. Agencies that don’t comply could be fined up to $10,000 a day. However, O’Donnell said state officials have indicated they won’t resort to fines in the beginning for agencies that fall short of reduction targets.

State officials will gauge whether agencies are meeting cutbacks by using their 2013 water consumption as a baseline.

With record-low snowpack in the state, Gov. Jerry Brown issued an executive order in April to cut statewide water use by 25 percent.

Kim Thorner, general manager of the Olivenhain district, weighed in at the May 5 state water board hearing in Sacramento.

Thorner advocated for, among other things, the state water board to lower reduction targets for local water districts that have invested in alternative supplies, like the Carlsbad desalination plant. The board declined to do so, but Thorner said this could be considered down the line.

The Olivenhain district’s board on May 13 is also due to vote on higher drought rates that would increase bills significantly for heavy users, while largely sparing those who use little.

The average Olivenhain district resident uses 22 units of water a month, resulting in a $111.10 bill. Under the proposed drought rates, this would increase 3.2 percent to $114.64.

Also, starting sometime in the next month or two, the district will be quicker to hand out citations for those violating Level 2 restrictions.

Violators currently receive a phone call, warning letter and second letter. If still out of compliance at this point, only then do they receive a fine.

In the future, they’ll receive a single warning, but then be fined upon a second violation, Thorner said. The district’s fine schedule starts at $100 and eventually progresses to $500 for those who remain uncooperative.

Olivenhain district officials are also lobbying the state to revise the district’s target to 32 percent based on updated population figures showing more people in the area. Thorner said she’s confident that will happen, but added the district still has much work ahead of it.

“We’re preparing for a new reality,” she said.


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