Del Mar issues drought alert

DEL MAR — Taking a proactive approach to stave off possible fines, Del Mar declared a stage-two drought alert, but stopped short of implementing drought rates at its June 22 meeting. The move, which means mandatory savings and water-use restrictions, advises all customers to increase conservation efforts.
As of July 1, the San Diego County Water Authority began an 8 percent reduction in its supply to Del Mar, mandating the region’s smallest city to not exceed an annual cap of 1,343 acre-feet of water. (One acre-foot is the quantity of irrigation water that would cover one acre to a depth of one foot.) If water use exceeds that amount, the penalty is $1,056 per acre-foot. If the city surpasses it by 15 percent or more, the fee doubles to $2,112 per acre-foot.
“So we could spend some money in a hurry if we violate our cap,” Public Works Director David Scherer said.
As a result of past conservation efforts, however, water use in the city has declined by more than 16 percent during the past two years.
From June 2006 through May 2007, Del Mar customers used almost 1,447 acre-feet. The next year consumption dropped nearly 15 percent to 1,233 acre-feet, a decline Scherer attributed mainly to the temporary closure of the L’Auberge resort. From June 2008 to this past May, usage dropped again by about 1.6 percent to 1,214 acre-feet.
But the city’s average water consumption per capita remains high, Scherer said. Of the 24 public agencies served by San Diego County Water Authority, Del Mar is the ninth highest user, consuming more than Oceanside, Escondido and Carlsbad. If water use reverted back to May 2007 levels, the city would be subject to a $100,000 fine, Scherer said.
Del Mar’s ordinance recommends the usual water-saving suggestions –— run only fully loaded washing machines and dishwashers, turn off the faucet when shaving or brushing teeth, repair leaks immediately, sweep rather than hose down outside areas and install low-flow showerheads and low-flush toilets. For those who own older homes, kits are now available to retrofit high-flush toilets, eliminating the need for replacement.
Irrigation is recommended between 4 p.m. and 9 a.m. only. Watering lawns during the day is counterproductive, Scherer said, since there is greater loss to evaporation. Visit for more water-saving tips.
Scherer said rebates are still being offered to replace high-use appliances, but with more requests than money available they are being issued on a first-come, first-served basis.
The city will begin tracking water use. If consumption exceeds a target rate of 1,300 acre-feet for two consecutive months, Scherer said he may ask council to implement drought rates. We’ve done a good job as a city, but the message is, we’ve got to continue, he said.
The Public Works Department is also developing a good-neighbor program that will use blue door tags to let people know it has observed problems such as overwatering or broken sprinklers. “This isn’t water cops,” Scherer said. “This is helpful.”
Council members said they may consider posting a list of the city’s top water users on the Web site.
“The data we’ve seen suggests that 80 to 90 percent of Del Mar has improved water conservation, but certainly not all citizens have made any serious attempt to reduce water use,” Councilman Don Mosier said.
A drought alert calls for up to 20 percent conservation. It is stage two or a four-phase warning system that begins with a watch and ends with critical and emergency, which requires more than 60 percent conservation.


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