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An aerial view of Lake Hodges located southeast of the city of San Marcos and other inland areas of San Diego County.
An aerial view of Lake Hodges located southeast of the city of San Marcos and other inland areas of San Diego County. Courtesy photo
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Drought alert triggers irrigation limits for inland water customers

SAN MARCOS — In observance of growing drought conditions statewide, the Vallecitos Water District has declared new water conservation requirements for thousands of customers in San Diego County’s inland area under a Level 2 drought alert.

Vallecito’s residential and commercial customers will now be limited to irrigating two days per week of their choosing from November to May, to be increased to three scheduled days per week from June to October, according to district spokesman Chris Robbins.

Restrictions went into effect April 21 and will last “into the foreseeable future” for the approximately 109,000 residents in the Vallecitos Water District, which covers San Marcos, Lake San Marcos, portions of Carlsbad, Vista and Escondido and several unincorporated North County communities, according to the district.

“This action will help San Diego County keep as much water as possible in storage,” Robbins said. “Vallecitos has sufficient water supplies for its customers, even if drought conditions persist. This is due largely to the fact that Vallecitos now receives a portion of its water directly from the Carlsbad Desalination Plant, which is a local, drought-resilient supply.”

The first three months of 2022 were the driest on record, bringing California into an expected third year of its current drought. Optimism resulting from heavy rainfall in October and December 2021 has since been eclipsed by faster-than-expected snowmelt in early 2021, reducing the Sierra Nevada snowpack — a crucial state water source — to just 38% of average, according to California Drought Action.

As a result of record drought conditions, the State Department of Water Resources has reduced anticipated deliveries from the State Water Project to 5% of requested supplies, and in March, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order requiring local water districts to reduce water usage by approximately 20%.

The Drought Level 2 alert was brought before the district board on April 20 in response to the statewide executive order and approved in a 4-1 vote, with board member Mike Sannella dissenting.

Board members discussed the potential confusion the restrictions might cause for customers, noting that San Diego County itself is faring better than other areas in terms of water supply and conservation. However, in the face of worsening drought conditions, the state has administered a sweeping executive order that is not tailored to the needs of each county.

“I know we’re completely powerless for the most part in this, but I don’t want us to make our customers suffer any more than they have to when we have plenty of water in San Diego because they’re paying more for that reliability,” Sannella said.

The district’s water supply is also supplemented by deliveries from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and the San Diego County Water Authority.

Along with limiting their days of irrigation, customers must also continue avoiding permanently-restricted activities including irrigating between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. or within 48 hours of rain, allowing excessive runoff during irrigation, hosing down hardscapes, not using a shut-off nozzle when washing cars, and not fixing leaks within 48 hours of discovery.

Commercial customers also face permanent restrictions; restaurants can serve water to diners only upon request, and hotels must provide the option of not laundering linens and towels daily in order to conserve water.

“Regardless of Level 1, Level 2, Level nothing, these are always in place,” Robbins said of the restrictions.

The new irrigation restrictions do not apply to nurseries, commercial growers or agricultural water accounts, according to the Vallecitos Water District.

To learn more about the Level 2 drought alert and associated restrictions, visit vwd.org.

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