The April 1 snow survey in the Sierra Nevada showed just 5 percent of the average snowpack — a record low since measurements began in 1950. It was an ominous sign: Four years into drought, California will get virtually no runoff this summer to augment stored water reserves.
On the same day, Gov. Jerry Brown issued a sweeping executive order designed to reduce water use statewide.
Low deliveries from the State Water Project and other factors mean the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California will impose water supply cutbacks for its customers, including the San Diego County Water Authority, that take effect July 1.
MWD is the largest water supply source for our region.
Thankfully, we have made significant progress diversifying our water supply sources over the past two decades.
Regional investments in water supply reliability by the Water Authority and its 24 member agencies will help reduce the impacts of any water supply cutbacks by MWD.
Those investments include long-term, independent Colorado River water transfers, and enhancing local supplies with groundwater, surface storage and water recycling projects that treat wastewater for use on places such as farms and golf courses.
The regional strategy also includes building the Carlsbad Desalination Project, which is expected to start producing water as soon as this fall.
It will be the largest seawater desalination project in the nation, generating 50 million gallons per day of drought-proof supplies that will help maintain our region’s $206 billion economy and the quality of life we enjoy.
Another positive factor is that San Diego County residents have embraced water conservation as a way of life.
Per capita water use in the region has decreased by more than 20 percent since 2007, and the region generated significant water savings in December and January by turning off irrigation systems after rainstorms. Regional water use in each of those months dropped by nearly 30 percent compared to the same months a year earlier, helping to conserve valuable supplies.
An interesting comparison is that since 1990 our population has grown by over 700,000, however, today we are using less water then we did in 1990.
Saving water is becoming even more important with water supply cutbacks starting this summer.
How can you save water as the temperatures rise? More than half of the water used at a typical home is for irrigation, so look for ways to conserve outdoors. Check for leaks in your irrigation system and make sure it’s not watering sidewalks or driveways.
Also, consider replacing unused lawn with WaterSmart landscaping that’s both attractive and appropriate for our region’s semi-arid climate.
Indoors, make sure to only run full loads of dishes and laundry.
If you need to replace a toilet, washing machine or dishwasher, take advantage of rebate offers on water-efficient models. Shorten showers, and use a bucket to capture warm-up water in the shower for dousing potted plants or parts of your garden.
Water agencies countywide have enacted water-use restrictions, and links to each agency are at WheninDrought.org.
The webpage also includes a link to the Water Authority’s online conservation portal WaterSmartSD.org, which offers numerous water-saving tips, rebates for water-efficient appliances, financial incentives for turf grass removal and low-water landscaping, free home water-use evaluations and WaterSmart landscaping classes, and other resources.
While it can be a challenge to find new ways to conserve, it’s important that we each do our part to save every day, every way.
Mark Muir is an Encinitas City Council member and vice chair of the San Diego County Water Authority.