Council Restricts City-Wide Water Usage

At the San Diego City Council Environment Committee’s recommendation, the full Council considered and approved a Level 2 Drought Alert status on Monday, Oct. 20. The alert, which imposes mandatory water usage restrictions on San Diego residents, will go into effect on Saturday, Nov. 1, with no planned end date.

The San Diego County Water Authority recommended a move to the Level 2 status earlier this past summer, aiming to reduce water consumption among member agencies by up to 20 percent. San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer also urged the City Council to approve the Drought Alert status in an Oct. 7 press release.

“Working together as a community, San Diego has done a tremendous job in the past in responding to the call for water conservation,” Faulconer said. “For that, we say thank you, and now we must ask for your continued help as we face the uncertainty of future rainfall and water supplies at critical levels.”

The Level 2 Drought Alert will implement multiple regulations that were outlined in Faulconer’s press release. This includes a fixed schedule for lawn and landscape irrigation, a limit on automobile washing at certain times, the use of recycled water whenever possible and a ban on most ornamental fountains. They add on to existing year-round restrictions previously set in 2011.

The city will assign about 10 staff members from the Public Utilities Department to uphold the mandates at no additional cost to water ratepayers. Smartphone users can also report waste incidents with San Diego’s new Waste No Water app.

Faulconer’s press secretary, Craig Gustafson, emphasized that enforcement was more focused toward educating citizens about conservation measures rather than strictly penalizing them.

“The vast majority of people immediately correct their actions once they are notified by the city of a possible violation,” he told the UCSD Guardian. “If they do, no fine is issued.”

This is the second Drought Alert enacted in San Diego. The previous one lasted from 2009 to 2011, although the city, as well as the rest of Southern California, still experienced serious shortages before and after the alert status.

According to San Diego Coastkeeper, a nonprofit grassroots organization that advocates for the protection of the region’s freshwater resources, the Metropolitan Water District supplies 45 percent of San Diego’s water but has only one-third of its stored reserves remaining.

San Diego entered a voluntary Level 1 Drought Watch status in July, reducing water use by 4.4 percent in August and 5.7 percent in September. Even so, Coastkeeper lobbied City Council to further increase cutbacks on usage to help alleviate the crisis.

“Since the governor declared a drought state of emergency in January 2014, San Diego Coastkeeper has met with representatives from the staff and elected bodies of regional cities and water agencies to urge them to take action,” Coastkeeper Executive Director Megan Baehrens said. “[The alert] is not a quick fix, and this is not a temporary drought — the way we think about water and how we use it must evolve with climate and population realities.”

Coastkeeper praised the City Council’s unanimous passage of the Level 2 Drought Alert, stating that it would continue to work with San Diego officials to enforce and educate the public about the passed guidelines. The organization’s waterkeeper, Matt O’Malley, added that such cutbacks should eventually become the norm in San Diego and the state as well.

In response to California’s growing water deficiency, UCSD itself created the Clean Water Utility Initiative in 2009 to organize responsible water management and green infrastructure improvements.