Water districts closely watching drought conditions

Water districts closely watching drought conditions
Encinitas water districts say there's adequate water supply for 2014, but they're keeping an eye on drought conditions. Photo courtesy of the Olivenhain Municipal Water District

ENCINITAS — Local water districts are closely monitoring a nasty drought to see if water-use restrictions are necessary. For now, it appears they will have adequate supply to draw from.

Kimberly Thorner, general manager of OMWD (Olivenhain Municipal Water District), noted the state saw record-low precipitation in 2013.

And the near future isn’t looking much better, she said. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted that the region will remain dry the rest of winter.

“We’re cautiously watching,” Thorner said.

She added that updates on water-supply levels could be necessary at every bi-monthly OMWD Board of Directors meeting throughout the remainder of 2014. That way, the board can respond accordingly.

If conditions are looking dire, the board has the option of moving up to a more severe level on a four-stage drought scale.

Thorner noted OMWD is at level one, which calls for residents to voluntarily conserve water. Level two entails mandatory use restrictions, tiered water rates and charging more for excessive use, but it’s currently not being considered by OMWD.

That’s because OMWD’s wholesaler, San Diego County Water Authority, and its wholesaler, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, have said they don’t anticipate water rationing.

Despite California being hit hard by the drought, Metropolitan stated last month that it has sufficient reserves for 2014 thanks primarily to relatively full reservoirs. The agency will provide an update based on snowpack reports in February.

“The district is monitoring the situation closely and staying flexible in case further action is necessary,” Thorner said.

Bill O’Donnell, assistant general manager with SDWD (San Dieguito Water District), said it’s reassuring that Metropolitan has sufficient supplies. But for SDWD, Lake Hodges, which provides a significant portion of the district’s water, is a concern.

The lake is at low levels due to a lack of rain. And water from Lake Hodges was once only available to SDWD and Santa Fe Irrigation District customers. But the city of San Diego recently began pumping water from the lake to its residents, so the pie is being split three ways.

From July 2013 to June 2014, the district expected to receive 2,400 acre-feet from Lake Hodges. Half way through that period, SDWD has only gotten 500 acre-feet from Lake Hodges.

SDWD hasn’t declared a level on the drought scale, but it could move into level 1 or 2.

“We’re waiting to see what happens in the remainder of the rainy season,” O’Donnell said.

To offset potential supply shortfalls, O’Donnell added that the district plans to offer more recycled water to its customers in the future. He noted the Encinitas Community Park, for instance, will be irrigated by recycled water.

Potential supply disruptions underscore the importance of local water projects, Thorner said.

For one, OMWD is exploring tapping groundwater in its district. It’s also looking to build miles of special pipes to bring recycled water to Village Park and other places in the northern part of the district, where recycled water currently isn’t available.

She noted the district imported all of its water from the San Diego County Water Authority in the past. But due to efforts over the past decade, recycled water now makes up 14 percent of its portfolio.

“Districts that have developed local resources are in a better position,” Thorner said. “We’re in a better position than we were in 2004.”

Additionally, OMWD is encouraging conservation among ratepayers, a message that it has pushed more in recent years. The district offers installation workshops for rain barrels and graywater systems, and it participates in a regional rebate for water-saving devices (visit Olivenhain.com for more information).

“Unfortunately, droughts have become part of our existence so we’ve continuously advocated for conservation,” Thorner said.

O’Donnell, too, said conservation has been critical (go to SDWD.org for water-saving tips). San Dieguito’s water demand has decreased 25 percent from 1990 to 2013, even though the population in the district has increased 10 percent during that time.

SDWD serves customers in the western part of the city, with OMWD covering the eastern portion.

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