San Diego County’s water supplies are in good shape in the face of severe statewide drought, but local and state leaders said San Diegans should still take steps to avoid water waste and limit outdoor irrigation.
“We’re here on a somber note, and that is as we move into summer… we are navigating across the American West, an unprecedented drought,” California Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot said.
On Thursday afternoon, the San Diego County Water Authority’s Board of Directors unanimously adopted a resolution reaffirming the agency’s commitment to conservation, pledging to “sustain our most precious natural resource and protect the human right to water” and work with other agencies to achieve water savings.
San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria said the city has adopted more stringent water restrictions, including limiting irrigation to three days per week before 10 a.m. or after 6 p.m., using shutoff nozzles or handheld containers for watering areas without irrigation systems, and ceasing to wash cars at home.
“I think these are small ways we can make a big difference when it comes to conserving this precious resource of water, and we are asking San Diegans to take these steps now so that we can avoid a more dire situation in the near-term future,” Gloria said.
He said the city has invested in water conservation projects including Pure Water San Diego, which will provide about 50 percent of the city’s water while cutting flows of sewage to the ocean in half. San Diego also works with various agencies to provide rebates for home conservation measures such as turf replacement, gray water systems and rain barrels.
“We are here in the arid Southwest, we’ve made smart investments, we’ve found additional in-region resources that are going to protect us, but we have to do even more,” Gloria said.
Water Authority Board Chair Gary Croucher said that “being at the end of the pipeline” for California’s water systems has forced San Diegans to be resourceful over the past 30 years. In addition to water efficiency improvements in urban areas, he said San Diego farmers have refined agricultural practices to produce 30 percent more crop with 30 percent less water.
Since the 1990s, San Diego County has reduced water use by 43 percent while diversifying its resources, said Kelley Gage, director of water resources for the Water Authority. Just over half the region’s water comes from a transfer agreement with Imperial Irrigation District, while the Poseidon Water desalination plant in Carlsbad provides another 10 percent.
“Simply put, nothing is more important than maintaining our water supplies; they’re absolutely essential to all of our communities,” said Jerry Sanders, president and CEO of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce. “Our efforts have been recognized at the national level as a model for the arid West.”
Other areas of the state seek to replicate some of San Diego’s advances, Crowfoot said. Two other desalination plants are under consideration in Dana Point and Monterey, he said, and officials are finalizing regulations that would make San Diego’s Pure Water project the first direct potable reuse project in California. Its success would allow other areas without underground water tables to pipe purified water directly into water systems instead of using it to recharge aquifers.
Despite that progress toward sustainability, Crowfoot said California faces an urgent water crisis. The state’s major reservoirs, Powell and Lake Mead, are at 28 percent of capacity, he said, while the Sacramento and San Joaquin water systems are experiencing severe shortages and many agricultural acres will likely go fallow for lack of water.
“We experience cycles of drought in California; we’re no stranger to drought,” Crowfoot said. “But if this drought feels different than other droughts, it’s because it is.”
Eight of the past 10 years have been drier than average, and changing snowfall patterns due to climate change have made it harder to capture that limited water, he said. Higher temperatures fueled by climate change have reduced the snowpack that the West depends on to fill reservoirs in spring, and caused much of the runoff to evaporate or absorb into soil before it ever reaches reservoirs he said.
Despite San Diego’s relative water security, he said California and other states may need to adopt “extraordinary, never-before conservation measures across the Southwest including California, to avoid the collapse of the water supply system on the Colorado River.”