By Mark Weston
At the start of October, California closed the books on one of the driest “water years” on record — and began what could be a fourth consecutive dry year stretching into 2015. The lack of rain and snow, combined with extremely high temperatures, has created some of the most serious drought conditions the state has faced in decades.
Without significant snowfall in the Sierra Nevada this coming winter, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California may reduce imported water deliveries to the San Diego County Water Authority and its other customers in 2015. It’s too soon to predict how that will play out, but two things are already clear: Every San Diego County resident should be saving water now to preserve storage reserves for 2015, and investments our region has made in a diversified water supply portfolio will reduce the impact of possible imported water supply cutbacks by MWD.
Water conservation has been a vital piece of our region’s overall water supply strategy for years, and per capita water use is down by more than 20 percent countywide since 2007. Despite very hot weather in recent months, San Diego County residents are continuing to heed calls for increased water conservation, including mandatory water-use restrictions in place across the county. Regional water use in August was 6 percent lower than the same month the year before, and it was down 4 percent in September compared to September 2013 — even with higher temperatures in those months this year compared to last year.
That’s a positive trend that should make every resident proud — and we need to keep building on that success. Each of us must take a harder look at how we use water to ensure that we not wasting our valuable natural resource. For the majority of homes and businesses, the biggest gains can be made by improving water-use efficiency outdoors — upgrading to low-flow rotary sprinkler heads, removing lawns that no longer serve a purpose, eliminating irrigation overspray onto paved surfaces, and complying with restrictions by local water agencies. For more ideas, resources and rebate offers, go to www.whenindrought.org.
While such steps may seem minor, collective efforts by 3.1 million residents can make a significant difference for weathering drought, as has the Water Authority’s overall water supply diversification strategy. The cornerstone of that plan was securing independent and highly reliable water transfers in the Colorado River Quantification Settlement Agreement of 2003 — enough to serve roughly 360,000 homes in 2014. Those transfers helped reduce the impact of MWD’s supply allocations during the drought of 2009-11, and San Diego County is receiving even more independent Colorado River water today.
The next big piece of the region’s diversification strategy is the Carlsbad Desalination Project, the largest seawater desalination project in the Western Hemisphere. It is expected to start producing 50 million gallons a day by fall 2015, enough drought-proof water for about 112,000 homes each year. The desalinated water will be used day-in and day-out no matter the weather, but it will be especially valuable when imported water supplies are reduced.
In addition, a number of local water agencies are exploring ways to expand the region’s water recycling and potable reuse efforts to maximize the value of each drop nature provides. History has taught us that water supplies in the arid Southwest are uncertain — but we can continue to enjoy the quality of life that we prize in San Diego County through prudent investments and increasing our commitment to conservation.
Mark Weston is the chair of the San Diego County Water Authority’s board of directors and a retired general manager of the Helix Water District. He has spent more than 40 years in the water, wastewater and municipal engineering industries.
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