Water shortfall forces area to conserve

SAN MARCOS — A thirsty San Marcos is about to feel the pinch. Drought-watch measures approved by the San Diego County Water Authority, or SDCWA, in April went into effect July 1, restricting the water supply by 8 percent and increasing prices. Client water agencies, including Vallecitos Water District, have instituted a number of mandatory conservation measures and are also raising rates.
Severe drought conditions on the Colorado River, low levels in local reservoirs and a freeze on pumping in Northern California to save an endangered species of smelt fish all factored into SDCWA’s decision, SDCWA Deputy Chairman Paul Lanspery said in a presentation before City Council on June 23.
Lanspery added that the situation was originally expected to be worse, but Metropolitan Water District, SDCWA’s primary water supplier, only reduced their supply this year by 13 percent instead of the projected 20 percent.
This still leaves a big water deficit to bridge. The voluntary, countywide “20 Gallon Challenge” was supposed to reduce usage by 10 percent. It only saved 5 percent. As a result, San Marcos residents are facing a big menu of restrictions.
Vallecitos district residents are not allowed to irrigate more than 10 minutes a day, and only before 10 a.m. or after 6 p.m. Washing down pavements is prohibited, ornamental fountains that don’t use recycled water must be shut off and residents should only use hoses with positive cutoffs to wash cars.
Rates are going up for those who consume more than 16 units of water per month. A unit is 748 gallons of water. Betty Ferguson, director for Vallecitos, stressed that the new rate schedule does not affect those who have already taken conservation to heart.
“We don’t want to penalize the people who are really trying to conserve, but the people with large landscape areas are going to have to take another look at their landscaping,” Ferguson said. “Landscaping takes up most of the water residents use.”
“We really need a new water ethic,” Lanspery said. “It doesn’t mean it has to look like a desert. There’s a lot of tools out there to make our landscaping look attractive and save water.”
SDCWA is banking on diversification of resources to beat the water crisis. Several desalination plants are in the works. The Poseidon plant in Carlsbad is scheduled to come online in 2012, and there are plans for the construction of bigger facilities on Camp Pendleton and in Mexico.
Mayor Jim Desmond said he liked the desalination plants, comparing California to a bathtub with Southern California as the drain at the bottom.
“We don’t supply — we’re the end of the line,” Desmond said. “It’d be nice … if we could become more of a source for water instead of just a drain for water.”
SDCWA also has a $3.7 billion program to expand local reservoirs. A project to double the size of San Vicente dam would, alone, be enough to eliminate cutbacks in service, Lanspery said. More reservoirs would also make local water supplies more reliable as most aqueducts into the region currently run over earthquake faults.
Lanspery urged the council and city residents to lobby their state legislators on the importance of these projects so that they don’t get mired in red tape. Vice Mayor Hal Martin agreed.
“The same people that have brought us the smelt and cutting our water supplies are the same people who make it very difficult to permit our desalination plants,” Martin said. “The best thing we can do is work on our legislatures to allow the processing of desalination plants to go through.”
More information on Vallecitos rate changes and mandatory measures can be found at www.vwd.org. Vallecitos offers a free landscape auditing service.

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