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One local water district exceeds state conservation target, other misses

Olivenhain Municipal Water District customers slashed their use 33 percent in June compared with the same month in 2013, exceeding the state’s demand that the agency cut back 32 percent, according to a new report.

June was the first month in which California water districts were required to meet state-mandated conservation targets, which were established to fight the punishing drought. Agencies that repeatedly fail to hit their goals could face fines.

“We are very pleased with our customers’ response to the call for conservation in June, especially considering how hot it was,” said Kim Thorner, general manager of the Olivenhain district.

The San Dieguito Water District, serving western Encinitas, reduced water use 18 percent, falling short of its 28 percent goal, according to a State Water Resources Control Board report that was released last week. California officials are gauging whether each agency meets its target by comparing water use against the same month in the benchmark year of 2013.

Bill O’Donnell, general manager of the San Dieguito district, said he knew it would be difficult to achieve the 28 percent cut, because water use in June 2013 was the lowest in a decade.

To reduce water use 28 percent going forward, O’Donnell said the agency is stepping up enforcement of drought restrictions, such as the prohibition on watering landscaping more than two days per week.

The district is also encouraging customers to convert to recycled water.

“The conversion process takes quite a bit of time to complete, so we will not see an immediate impact from this effort,” O’Donnell said, adding it “will result in a permanent reduction in potable water use, though.”

O’Donnell said he doesn’t anticipate any state-imposed penalties based on missing the target one month. The State Water Resources Control Board has said it will help agencies that aren’t consistently meeting their goals before moving to penalties, he added.

San Dieguito was among the six San Diego County water agencies that missed their varying conservation targets. Nine reached their goals.

Overall, Californians slashed their water use by 27.3 percent in June, surpassing Gov. Jerry Brown’s state goal of 25 percent, despite the warmest June on record.

Thorner said the district’s conservation approach includes outreach, increased enforcement, incentives and higher water rates, known as “drought rates.”

“One customer might be motivated to attend a landscape class, while another might take advantage of a rebate for rain barrels, and yet a third may not know that their sprinklers are going off every day until they receive an enforcement letter,” Thorner said.

She added that the district sent out six times as many violation letters in June as it did in May.

Before the state mandate took effect, the Olivenhain district reduced water consumption 37 percent in May and 1 percent in April. The San Dieguito district sliced use 18 percent in May and 24 percent in April.

The San Dieguito district covers the western half of Encinitas, while the Olivenhain district includes households in eastern Encinitas, and parts of Carlsbad, Elfin Forest and 4S Ranch.

Just before press time, O’Donnell sent an email noting that San Dieguito district customers reduced use 26.5 percent in July. When asked, Thorner said the Olivenhain district had yet to receive an official state invoice for July, but internal district reports indicate customers slashed consumption nearly 40 percent.


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