The San Diego County Water Authority Board meets Thursday in Kearny Mesa. Photo by Chris Jennewein
The San Diego County Water Authority Board meets Thursday in Kearny Mesa. Photo by Chris Jennewein

The San Diego County Water Authority voted Thursday to limit lawn watering to two days a week throughout San Diego County because of the record California drought.

The order comes in response to both emergency cuts mandated by the state and a 15 percent reduction in deliveries from the Colorado River via the Metropolitan Water District.

“These are unprecedented and historic times,” noted Chairman Mark Weston at the beginning of the meeting. “We will look at outside irrigation water as a very low priority.”

Mark Weston speaks to the press following the meeting.

He said San Diego had invested in independent water supplies, and can meet 99 percent of demand, but was unable to convince the state to adjust the mandated cuts. “We believed that we should have been given some credit for all the new water supplies that have been brought on in the San Diego region,” he said.

As a result, San Diego will be storing water in the San Vicente Reservoir even as customers are asked to cut back use. “This will be water that can be available for subsequent years if it continues to be dry,” noted Dana Friehauf, water resources manager for the authority

California is in the fourth year of a drought. The snow pack is at a record low, Lake Mead on the Colorado River has fallen to its lowest level since it was filled in the 1930s, and temperatures are expected to be higher than average this summer.

The rules would go into effect June 1 and continue until at least June 30, 2016. Watering would only be allowed on two days, with individual agencies allowed to set the days and the maximum watering times.

Watering times would vary because individual agencies need to reduce water use between 12 percent and 36 percent. The target for the City of San Diego, the largest user by far, is 16 percent.

The authority also voted to spend $1 million on public outreach, including a media campaign, to make sure residents of San Diego County understand the seriousness of the situation and exactly what to do to save water.

The staff had recommended that every agency halt watering on the same days, but a number of board members representing smaller and rural agencies argued for flexibility. “Let’s not dictate to people how they are supposed to meet these restrictions,” said Keith Lewinger, who represents Carlsbad.

But Hala Razak, director of public utilities for the city of San Diego, said enforcement would be impossible without setting specific watering days.

Several board members stressed that San Diego was cutting more than necessary only because of the state mandates.

“We have a water supply shortage in San Diego County created by government,” Lewinger said.

Board Member Jim Madaffer, who represents San Diego, said the cuts are a “bitter pill” in some ways, but argued that San Diego has done the right thing to invest in new water sources and storage. He said San Diego is 25 years ahead of the rest of the state.

Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.