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City Council seeks advice from citizens on water issues

DEL MAR — In an effort to comply with revised water conservation regulations recently adopted by state and regional agencies, City Council approved the formation of an ad hoc Water Conservation Citizens’ Advisory Committee at the Nov. 10 meeting, but not before taking steps to avoid creating the water police.
According to the staff report, the group would review the existing water conservation ordinance and make recommendations for amendments. Councilman Carl Hilliard said the current law provides “a fair and reasonable way of apportioning” available water, so he wanted assurance that the committee would only make changes to bring the existing ordinance into compliance with state regulations.
“The principal purpose is really to go through the existing ordinance,” Brian Mooney, interim planner director, said. “We want to make sure those local laws are implementable and/or appropriate for the timeframe. … There will be mechanisms to make sure that those are implemented.”
“That sounds very much like the water police to me,” Hilliard said. “I’m all in favor of education. I’m all in favor of giving people options. I’m all in favor of going forward in a responsible manner. I’m not in favor of dictating to people how they’ll use whatever allocation of water they have.”
Hilliard’s colleagues unanimously agreed. Noting that the primary mission of the committee should be education, they added that goal to the adopted resolution.
“I would be disappointed if this ad hoc committee (spent) a majority of its time looking at amendments to
the ordinances,” Councilman Richard Earnest said. “I’d be much more interested in the public outreach and the education because that’s going to have more force and effect with practical, adult-minded people.”
“Are we talking about doing something here that’s meaningful and useful versus creating some type of punitive system that then creates enforcement problems?” Councilwoman Crystal Crawford asked.
The current ordinance, which was adopted in March 1992, includes a variety of regulations to conserve water supplies, minimize the effects of water-supply shortages and reduce dependence on imported water.
In response to drought conditions, state and regional organizations such as the San Diego County Water Authority adopted new conservation goals. Staff has been reviewing Del Mar’s existing ordinance to determine what modifications are necessary to comply with those changes. It was recommended that the city form the ad hoc committee to provide guidance and input.
The seven-member group will include two representatives from the Planning Commission, one representative from the Design Review Board, Parks and Recreation Committee and Energy Issues Advisory Committee, an at-large appointment from the real estate industry and one from the business community. The committee will report back to City Council in July 2009.
For existing residents, the current ordinance provides only recommendations such as using low-flush toilets, low-flow showerheads, running only fully loaded washing machines and dishwashers, and turning off water when shaving or brushing teeth.
Landscaping suggestions include watering between 4 p.m. and 9 a.m. except when using drip or micro irrigation systems, adjusting timers based on the season and weather, and using artificial turf or drought-tolerant grass, trees and plants. It is recommended that restaurants serve water only on request.
Amendments to the original ordinance require all new construction to comply with the recommendations. Structures undergoing modifications greater than 500 square feet and properties that are sold must install low-flush toilets and low-flow faucets and showerheads.
Only 15 percent of landscaping for new construction is allowed to be turf, and only low-volume drip or micro irrigations systems can be installed.
David Scherer, director of public works, said it’s important to note that for existing customers, the ordinance provides only recommendations. For new construction, however, those recommendations become requirements.
“When you’re in a discretionary permit where you’re actually coming before the city to build a new development … I think it is appropriate for the city, under these water times, to give guidance to that applicant,” Scherer said. “That is the intent. The intent is not to create a water-cop ordinance.”
Residents converting to water-efficient appliances and landscaping are eligible for rebates of up to $185 for washing machines, $200 for toilets and 50 cents per square foot for synthetic turf. For rebate information, call (888) 376-3314.
The city plans to post its water-saving recommendations on the Web site. Other conservation suggestions are available at
“Not everyone can do all of those, but everybody can do some of them,” Earnest said.