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Conservation Stalls Deeper Water Cutbacks

By Jennifer Erickson | LB Indy

Thanks to the conservation policies of the two water districts supplying Laguna Beach, residents may not feel as keenly the impact of recently mandated statewide curbs on outdoor water use.

Prompted by dire drought conditions, the state Water Resources Control Board last week adopted several emergency water-saving regulations, setting minimum standards for water districts. They include prohibitions on washing down driveways and sidewalks, landscape watering that yields runoff, washing vehicles without a shut-off nozzle and decorative fountains that don’t recirculate water.

The regulations require water suppliers to mandate outdoor irrigation restrictions and conservation measures for the next nine months.

Local agencies will have the power to fine users up to $500 a day for lack of compliance, and the state can in turn fine local agencies up to $10,000 a day for failure to comply with an enforcement order.

The emergency regulation “is telling water districts and the people they serve that this is a very serious situation,” said Linda Homscheid, a spokeswoman for South Coast Water District, which serves South Laguna, Dana Point and areas of San Clemente and San Juan Capistrano.

Due to cutbacks in supplies from the state water system, farmers have let land go fallow, and many farm jobs are in jeopardy, she said. “We’ve been fortunate that we have a lot of water in storage down here, but we’re drawing on that all the time,” she said, which means continuing the search for new water sources while conserving more.

SCWD customers are 75 percent reliant on water from the Colorado River and from northern California’s San Francisco-San Joaquin Bay Delta through the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD). About 15 percent of its water is pumped from a groundwater recovery facility and another 10 percent, used for landscaping, is recycled from runoff.

Despite Governor Jerry Brown’s call in January for voluntary 20 percent cutbacks in water use, recent data shows just a 5 percent decline, said Homscheid.

SCWD expects customers to abide by conservation measures already imposed, such as the 20 percent reduction in water use, landscape watering limited to three days a week and leak repairs, said Homscheid. The only area where the district’s rules are less strict than the emergency regulation is over landscape runoff. The district intends to address the discrepancy, notes the agenda of this week’s meeting where their board examined the district’s compliance with the state mandates.

Laguna Beach County Water District serves the remainder of Laguna Beach, along with Emerald Bay and part of Crystal Cove State Park. It is 100 percent reliant on water imported through the MWD. The district is studying pumping groundwater in the Santa Ana River Basin as a future source, according to their web site.

“Our customers have been outstanding in their efforts to conserve,” said Renae Hinchey, the district’s general manager. Customers have already met the 20 percent reduction request through conservation programs that include smart landscape timers, rebates and consumer education, she said.

The district uses a third less water today than when Hinchey started there 14 years ago, purchasing 3,600 acre feet today compared to 4,800 acre feet then. An acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons, enough water to cover a football field a foot deep and to meet the needs of an average family for two years.

The Laguna Beach district’s commission and board will meet on Aug. 7 to consider what actions, if any, might be necessary to comply with the emergency measures. Their goal will be to minimize any hardships to their already compliant customers, Hinchey said.

“We are facing the worst drought impact that we or our grandparents have ever seen,” State Water Board Chair Felicia Marcus said in a statement. “And, more important, we have no idea when it will end.”

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