San Dieguito district faces demand to cut water use by 25 percent


Under a proposed state plan, the San Dieguito Water District would need to slash water consumption by 25 percent.

The State Water Resources Control Board last week released a draft plan assigning how much each water agency must cut, ranging from 10 to 35 percent.

But San Diego County water officials have stated that the steep cuts are unfair, arguing the region has done more than other areas to combat the drought. Bill O’Donnell, the assistant general manager of the San Dieguito district, recently joined the chorus.

“That’s going to be extremely challenging for this area to meet,” O’Donnell said of the proposed 25 percent cutback.

O’Donnell said the state plan would punish county water agencies that have invested heavily in diversifying their water supplies. He cited the Carlsbad desalination plant, which is expected to provide 7 to 10 percent of the region’s water needs, reducing the demand for imported water.

According to the proposal, the state would determine whether each agency reaches its reduction target in future years by using 2013 water consumption as a benchmark.

O’Donnell said that’s problematic, because the district began a number of conservation programs years ago. Thus, compared to agencies that have yet to start these efforts, it will be tougher for the district to dramatically slash water use, he added.

“We’re asked to cut back the same as a water agency that hasn’t even completed (installing) water meters in their agency,” O’Donnell said.

The district offers rebate programs to replace grass and water-wasting appliances. And the Encinitas Ranch Golf Course uses recycled water, saving potable water, he stated.

O’Donnell added the county has pushed conservation for decades, helping drive down per capita water use in the region by 31 percent since 1990.

If the 25 percent reduction takes effect, O’Donnell said higher “drought rates” would be likely. And customers would probably have to go from watering three days a week — the current Level 2 drought restriction — to one or two days per week.

“I wanted to mention the irony of Sacramento issuing these requirements when half their city doesn’t even have meters,” board member Tony Kranz said.

Board member Mark Muir said that Gov. Jerry Brown seems adamant about a 25 percent reduction across the state.

The water control board’s proposal is part of Brown’s recent executive order, which mandated new restrictions in the face of record-low snowpack.

Brown has stressed that mandatory regulations are necessary to tackle a drought that’s reached crisis-level proportions. Calls to voluntarily conserve haven’t been as effective as hoped, he has stated.

Urban water districts in California reduced water use only 2.8 percent in February, compared with the same month in 2013, it was announced last week.

The state plan says agencies with the highest rates of per-capita water consumption must conserve the most, while there’s less of a burden for districts with lower usage.

Among county agencies, proposed cuts run from 20 to 35 percent.

The Olivenhain Municipal Water District, the other agency serving Encinitas, is looking at 35 percent, the maximum reduction.

It’s anticipated the state water control board will finalize mandatory water cuts in early May. The rules would then take effect in June. But agencies that fail to comply could face fines of up to $10,000 a day.

Public speakers didn’t weigh in on the agenda item.

O’Donnell also announced that Metropolitan Water District voted this week to reduce allocations by an average of 15 percent to county agencies starting in July.

For the district, this would likely translate into a 5 to 8 percent cutback from metropolitan, O’Donnell said.

O’Donnell called this decision a “sound policy” based on data, while characterizing the state’s proposal as “arbitrary.”