CWA postpones water cutback vote

Although San Diego County Water Authority (CWA) will likely notify member agencies of mandatory municipal and industrial (M&I) cutbacks, the board chose hold off on issuing such an alert during a recent meeting.

The postponement of a notification until April 23 allows CWA to make its decision after the Metropolitan Water District of California’s (MWD) April 14 expected notification. The cutbacks would take effect July 1.

“I believe the 10-day difference is not going to make a whole lot of difference to the member agencies,” said CWA Water Planning Committee Chair Javier Saunders, a City of San Diego representative on the CWA board.

“In no way are we derailing what we’ve been doing,” said City of San Diego representative Tom Wornham.

The CWA’s model drought response conservation program ordinance identifies four drought response levels to help achieve demand reduction during temporary shortages.  Level 1, Drought Watch, involves a 10 percent voluntary conservation.

Level 2, Drought Alert, calls for up to 20 percent mandatory conservation.  Level 3, Drought Critical, provides for up to 40 percent mandatory conservation, while Level 4, Drought Emergency, implements mandatory conservation of more than 40 percent.

CWA adopted the model ordinance in March 2008, and most CWA member agencies have implemented their own ordinances or resolutions. Ramona Municipal Water District customers are in a Level 1 Drought Watch.

The Level 2 model ordinance restrictions include a prohibition on washing paved surfaces, a ban on runoff from excessive irrigation, and irrigation limits on hours, length of time, and number of days per week. A hose must have a positive shutoff valve, leaks must be repaired within 72 hours of notification, ornamental fountain use is not allowed, and restaurants cannot serve water except upon request. Those restrictions do not apply to recycled water use.

Due to insufficient MWD core State Water Project and Colorado River supplies to meet Calendar Year 2008 projected demands without drawing on storage reserves, the CWA approved a Level 1 notification in April 2008. The voluntary measures obtained a demand reduction in M&I water use for 2008 of approximately 5 percent compared to 2007.

In December 2008, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a biological opinion on the Delta smelt which will result in continued reduced deliveries, and on March 4, 2009, the state’s Fish and Game Commission voted to list the longfin smelt as threatened under the California Endangered Species Act.

The effect of the longfin smelt’s listing on State Water Project pumping has not yet been determined, and Northern California water could be reduced even further if the biological opinion the National Marine Fisheries Service plans to issue on salmon and steelhead indicates adverse effects from pumping.

Because of local supplies, the Quantification Settlement Agreement for additional Colorado River, and dry-year transfer agreements, the CWA has sources other than MWD imported water.

In 2008 the CWA obtained 71 percent of its supply from MWD, although 3 percent of the total amount was recycled water. A 15 percent MWD cutback would result in an approximate 9 percent reduction of CWA supplies, although a 20 percent MWD cutback would reduce CWA supplies by 13 percent and a 25 percent MWD decrease would cut the CWA amount by 16 percent.

“The final cutback to our member agencies is very sensitive to the use of transfers and storage,” said CWA Director of Water Resources Ken Weinberg.

Because of the phase-out of MWD’s Interim Agricultural Water Program (IAWP), which provides surplus MWD supplies to agricultural customers at a discounted rate, IAWP cutbacks would be higher for the remainder of Calendar Year 2009 than during Calendar Year 2010. A condition of IAWP calls for a reduction of up to 30 percent prior to implementing any mandatory reductions to M&I customers.  That occurred last year, but, because the Ramona district has Lake Ramona, IAWP customers here were cut only 15 percent.

A 10 percent MWD cutback would translate into a 30 percent IAWP reduction during the final six months of 2009 and a 25 percent cutback for 2010, a 15 percent MWD cut would decrease IAWP allocation by 40 percent in 2009 and 34 percent in 2010, a 20 percent MWD decrease would cut IAWP usage 50 percent in 2009 and 43 percent in 2010, and a 25 percent MWD reduction would slash IAWP customers by 75 percent in 2009 and 63 percent in 2010.

“We’ll have to cut down more trees to live with 40 percent,” said Valley Center Municipal Water District Manager Gary Arant, who is also Valley Center’s representative on the CWA board.

Although the decision will be made at MWD’s April 14 board meeting, the estimate is that MWD will issue cutbacks of between 15 and 20 percent.

All but six CWA directors supported the delay in issuing the Level 2 notice.  

“My concern here is we are taking a step in advance of Metropolitan,” said Jim Barrett, one of the CWA’s representatives on the MWD board as well as a City of San Diego representative on the CWA board. “I’m very concerned that we could provide more confusion here than actual help.”

Rainbow Municipal Water District board member Rua Petty, who is Rainbow’s CWA representative, hoped to issue the alert in March.  

“I think this body’s at a point where we need to take a leadership role and we need to send a message to Met before they make their decision,” he said.  “I think delay is dangerous.  I think it sends the wrong signal to Met.”

Petty doubts that the MWD cuts will be low enough to stave off mandatory CWA cutbacks.  

“The what-ifs are over,” he said. “Delaying the decision will in fact confuse the public even more where we have been trying to convince them that there is a shortage.”

“My concern is that we have the public worked up,” said Otay Water District General Manager Mark Watton, who is Otay’s CWA representative.  “I think it needs to jell a little more.”

Fern Steiner, a City of San Diego representative on the CWA board and also sits on the MWD board, doubts that the one-month delay would adversely affect the plans of member agencies.  

“I’m going to guess that there is not an agency in this room that hasn’t been working on this,” she said.  “If that’s (the CWA notification) what it takes to get these agencies in gear, then they have a different problem that we can’t help them with.”

   
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