By Doug Curlee | Editor at Large
When historic cuts in water delivery to California’s local water agencies kick in on June 1, San Diego may be better able to weather those cutbacks than most places in the state, but the impact will still be felt here.
The San Diego County Water Authority says we have actually done a better job than most places in cutting back on water usage and pushing conservation measures. In fact, we may have done too good a job at that.
The San Diego region is still looking at a state mandate to cut water use by 25 percent, based on our usage in 2014.
“After two decades of countywide water conservation efforts and water-use reductions, it will be very difficult to meet those goals” said Water Authority board chairman Mark Weston.
The cuts will vary from local agency to local agency. The city of San Diego will be expected to cut by 16 percent. Sweetwater in the South Bay will need only a 12 percent reduction, while Rancho Santa Fe will have to figure out how to cut 36 percent.
If the local agencies do not make the required cuts, they will be fined up to $10,000 per day they are in violation.
The draconian rules may seem like overkill to Californians who grew up expecting water to always be there in abundance, but state Water Resources Control Board Chair Felicia Marcus makes clear how the board felt about it when it passed the mandatory regulations.
“This is the best we can do in the short run. The whole point of this is dealing with an unprecedented emergency.”
So what does our future look like?
We have the space to store water
We’ve mentioned here before that San Diego has plenty of room to store water, if we can get the water to store. The recently expanded San Vicente Reservoir, along with the reservoirs at Lake Hodges, Sweetwater, Olivenhain and others in the region guarantee us storage capacity if we can get the water.
But can we get the water?
Yes, but not as much as we’d like. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which sells us roughly half of our water from the north and the Colorado River, will cut our 2014 allotment by 15 percent. That is mostly offset by two factors. First, the Water Authority is still benefitting from its independent agreement with the Imperial Irrigation District, bringing river water west from the Imperial Valley. Second, the largest desalination plant in the Western Hemisphere will kick in roughly 50 million gallons of water a day when it comes online in Carlsbad this fall.
Will our water bills go up?
Almost certainly. Part of the downside to all this is that as people start to conserve even more, they’ll be using less water. That means local water districts won’t be selling as much of it, and in order to stay in business, it’s pretty much automatic that the local districts’ rates will have to be raised enough to at least cover the costs of operation.
By the time you finish reading this, the Water Authority will have passed a bundle of recommendations to help accomplish what still needs to be done locally.
Will things ever go back to how they were?
Not likely. What we’re going to see from here into the foreseeable future is the new normal. What we will likely see are renewed pushes to rebuild the entire water collection and delivery system throughout the state. It’s been neglected and taken for granted since it opened in 1954, and there is much to be done. At least two new dams are slated to be built up north of us, and there are competing plans to move more northern California water southward through, or under, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
Right now the Water Resources Control Board says the mandatory water cuts will be in effect until February of 2016 and that a judgment will be made then whether to continue them or cut back on them.
The major factor in that decision will not be made in the state capitol. It will be made in the valleys among the high Sierra, where they check the winter snowpack every spring.
The odds are that brown lawns, dry hillsides and higher water bills are with us for a while — quite a while.
—Write to Doug Curlee at Doug@sdcnn.com.