Updated: New Rules Restrict Water Use


With Californians cutting water use by only 2.8 percent this February compared to a year ago, local water districts are gearing up for state-mandated restrictions by telling customers to crimp the flow.

Effective Wednesday, April 22, South Laguna residents will not be able to wash their cars at home and can only water their lawns and gardens one night a week, said Andy Brunhart, general manager of the South Coast Water District. Watering will be limited to 10 minutes per sprinkler system, he said. The new water rules resulted from a special board meeting Tuesday.

The restrictions result from a lack of conservation by customers, said Brunhart. SCWD was far from attaining the 20 percent reduction of water usage required by state water regulators in 2013. Customers used 197 gallons per person per day last year.

Up until recent months, that translated to only a 1 percent decrease in potable water use in 2014 by SCWD’s 39,000 customers spread between South Laguna and San Clemente. The opposite trend is now surfacing, with per-person use dropping 10 percent to 82 gallons per day in February, according to the latest state Water Resources Control Board report. “Awareness is increasing,” Brunhart said.

Throughout the rest of Laguna Beach, served by the Laguna Beach County Water District, customers had dialed back water consumption 26 percent over the previous nine months. However, water use rose 5.5 percent in February over the same month a year ago.

Last week, the governor mandated a statewide 25 percent reduction in water use by next February due to the lack of mountain snowpack reserves and rainfall, continuing a fourth year of severe drought. Cuts will vary by community based on past conservation and will likely take effect after a state Water Resources Control Board hearing in early May.

Limiting daily per-gallon use for each person in a household is also in the works, according to water board reports. In water districts where residential customers consume 165 gallons of water a day, a 35 percent reduction is proposed while districts where customers are using less than 55 gallons a day, only a 10 percent cut-back would be imposed.

In February, LBCWD’s 19,000 customers consumed 89 gallons a person per day as compared to 84 gallons in the same month a year earlier, in February 2013, said assistant general manager Christopher Regan. Over the past nine months, though, per capita consumption declined from 120 gallons per day and overall use shrunk 26.61 percent, he said.

The district currently plans no specific restrictions, but that may change if its supply allocation from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California declines, Regan said. Allocations could translate to water rationing, he said. “There are conservation measures coming, no matter what,” he said.

“As of next week, as of next month, we still don’t know what we’ll need to ask of our customers,” he said. “If they conserve water, thank you very much, if they’re not, they need to start thinking about doing it.

The number of summer tourists also affects water usage in the two water districts’ service areas. Both districts combined see an influx of 3 million people in the summer, said Brunhart. But water wholesalers, such as MWD, don’t take that into account when averaging per-day use, he said. The water supplier looks at several years of water use to determine needs.   “And tourists come every year, so those numbers don’t come into play,” Brunhart said. “You can’t regulate tourists.”

A soon-to-be-shunned 10-minute shower typically takes 25 gallons of water, or 2.5 gallons per minute, under a restricted-flow shower head.  An unrestricted-flow showerhead gushes twice as much. A 10-minute shower would take 50 gallons of water, or nearly what is now considered an average day’s use of water per person.

The Laguna County Water District continues to provide free low-flow showerheads, five-minute shower timers, leak- detection dye tabs for toilets and faucet aerators to restrict flow, Regan said, while supplies last.

For South Laguna residents, ignoring the new rules prohibiting car washing and over-watering will likely result in reminders, such as a friendly visit from a water district employee or a door hanger asking the customer to call. “Ninety-nine percent of our customers, once they know, will say, ‘Oh my gosh, I didn’t know,’ and they’re perfectly happy to conserve,” said Brunhart.

Commercial car washes will be the only option other than driving a dirty car, Brunhart said. Every car wash within the water district uses recycled water, he said.

Watering hours will remain restricted from 5 p.m. to 9 a.m. Watering had been limited to three nights a week. Hosing off sidewalks and driveways remain discouraged.

SCWD is also prohibiting filling or refilling residential swimming pools and spas, although customers can maintain water levels with a once-a-month top-up. The same restrictions apply to ornamental lakes and ponds.

WaterGraphThe lawn and garden irrigation restrictions will also apply to SCWD’s largest customers, the luxury resorts within its service area, St. Regis, Ritz-Carlton and Montage. Restrictions do not apply to recycled water use, which is unlimited, Brunhart confirmed. Some local hotels, such as the Montage, already use reclaimed water to irrigate.

Other new SCWD restrictions apply to new construction, which can only install drip or micro-spray watering systems if potable water is used, said Brunhart. Apartment and townhome builders are being asked to install per unit water meters so that consumers can determine how much they’re using, he said. Use of potable water on ornamental turf and road medians will be prohibited.

The reduction in use also means less revenue for water districts. To accommodate an anticipated 10 percent decline in revenue, some SCWD construction projects are on hold, Brunhart said. Water rates have not risen since 2013 and the district’s staff recommends no change next year as well, according to the agenda of an upcoming water board meeting.

Guests, Too, Will Be Asked to Help Conserve

Some Laguna Beach hotels are stepping up a drought-induced intolerance to frivolous water use.

No longer will guests be asked to place a small card on the sheets if they want them changed. No longer will wet towels on bathroom floors be automatically picked up and replaced with clean ones. In what’s becoming known in the hospitality industry as the linen recycling or linen choice program, sheets and towels will be changed only upon request.

Visit Laguna, the Laguna Beach promotion agency whose members include local hotels and restaurants, has yet to consider what steps to take to get tourists to use less water, said Peggy Trott, the agency’s chair. “We’re kinda waiting to see what the city will do,” she said, adding that the subject will be discussed at a board meeting next week.

The Montage Resort and Spa
The Montage Resort and Spa

Even so, at the Inn at Laguna Beach, which Trott manages, a new placard stressing the seriousness of the water shortage will be placed in every room. The card will be more direct, saying something like, “Listen, it’s a severe drought. We really don’t want to wash your sheets so don’t make us,” Trott said.

Restricted flow showerheads and toilets were installed at the inn during its 2012 renovation, she said. Flowerbeds will be replanted with low-maintenance geraniums to lessen irrigation, she said.

The Hotel Laguna at Main Beach is stepping in time, too, said Heinz Hoffman, chief operating officer. A sign in guest rooms says that linens are not changed every night and only upon request. If new towels are desired, guests are asked to place used towels in the bathtub, said Hoffman. Hotel employees are also being asked to conserve water by not letting it run down the drain. The hotel’s restaurant, Ocean View Bar and Grill, is serving water only upon request.

As of April 15, at the 248-room Montage resort, the town’s largest and highest rated hotel, long-staying guests will be informed that sheets and towels are changed every third day, said Leah Giuliano, marketing manager. Water at the resort’s restaurants will be served only upon request and irrigating the hotel’s lawns will be restricted to two days a week. Some of the landscape is irrigated with reclaimed water, which has no use restrictions.



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  1. I thought that hosing off sidewalks and driveways was not allowed. The article states: “Hosing off sidewalks and driveways remain discouraged.” Please clarify.


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