San Diego County’s water supply is doing well in the face of a severe statewide drought, but local and state leaders said the county should still take steps to avoid wasting water and limit outdoor irrigation.
“We’re coming here with a gloomy mood, and that’s when we’re heading into summer … we’re moving through the western United States, and this is an unprecedented drought,” California Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crawford said.
On Thursday afternoon, the San Diego County Water Authority Board of Directors unanimously passed a resolution reaffirming the agency’s commitment to conservation, a commitment to “preserve our most precious natural resource and protect the human right to water” and to work with other agencies to achieve water conservation.
San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria said the city has taken stricter water restrictions, including limiting irrigation to before 10 a.m. or after 6 p.m. three days a week, when there is no irrigation system. Use closed nozzles or hand-held containers to water the area and stop at home.
“I think these are small ways we can make a big difference in protecting this precious water resource, and we’re asking San Diegans to take these steps now to avoid a more dire situation in the near term,” Gloria said.
He said the city has invested in water-saving projects, including San Diego Pure Water, which will provide about 50 percent of the city’s water while halving the flow of sewage into the ocean. San Diego also works with various agencies to offer rebates for home conservation measures like lawn replacements, greywater systems and rain barrels.
“We’re in the arid Southwest, we’ve made smart investments, we’ve found additional intraregional resources that can protect us, but we’ve got to do more,” Gloria said.
Gary Croucher, chairman of the Board of Directors of the Water Authority, said California’s water system is “at the end of the pipeline” forcing San Diego to be resourceful over the past 30 years. In addition to improved water efficiency in urban areas, San Diego farmers have improved agricultural practices to produce 30 percent of their crops using 30 percent less water, he said.
Since the 1990s, San Diego County has reduced water use by 43 percent while diversifying resources, said Kelley Gage, director of water resources at the Water Authority. More than half of the area’s water comes from a transfer agreement with the Empire Irrigation District, while Carlsbad’s Poseidon Desalination Plant provides the other 10 percent.
“Simply put, nothing is more important than maintaining our water supply; they are absolutely essential to all of our communities,” said Jerry Sanders, president and CEO of the San Diego Area Chamber of Commerce. “Our efforts have been recognized at the national level as a model for the Dry West.”
Other parts of the state are trying to replicate some of San Diego’s progress, Crowfoot said. Two other desalination plants are under consideration at Dana Point and Monterey, and officials are finalizing regulations to make San Diego’s purified water project the first direct drinking water reuse project in California, he said. Its success would allow other areas without a water table to deliver purified water directly into water systems, rather than using it to recharge aquifers.
Despite progress on sustainability, Crowfoot said California faces an urgent water crisis. The state’s main reservoirs, Powell and Lake Mead, are at 28 percent capacity, he said, while water systems in Sacramento and San Joaquin are facing severe shortages, with many farmlands likely to be left fallow due to lack of water.
“We’ve gone through a cycle of droughts in California; we’re no strangers to droughts,” Crowfoot said. “But if this drought feels different from other droughts, that’s because it does.”
Eight of the past 10 years have been drier than average, he said, and changes in snow patterns due to climate change have made access to limited water more difficult. Higher temperatures caused by climate change have reduced the snowpack the West uses to fill reservoirs in the spring and caused most of the runoff to evaporate or absorb into the soil before it reaches the reservoirs, he said.
While San Diego’s water is relatively safe, he said California and other states may need “unprecedented and extraordinary conservation measures in the Southwest, including California, to avoid the collapse of the Colorado River water system.”