Water, Water, Everywhere and Not a Drop to Drink

| November 17, 2014 | 0 Comments

2014 is third year of drought; having Kelly Mooney from the San Diego County Water Authority speak to the Mission Hills Garden Club was a welcome event. After a brief overview of the agencies dealing with our water supply, statistics about water usage, Mooney had a host of suggestions and resources for us to utilize in our attempt to conserve water and save money.

The San Diego County Water Authority is a wholesale water agency with 24 member agencies. It serves 3.2 million people (97 percent of the county’s population) who used 950,000 acre-feet of water (two families of four use one acre-foot of water a year) and is part of a $206,000,000,000 economy. From 2009 until 2013 20 percent of our water came from the State Water Project (Bay-Delta), 63 percent came from the Colorado River and 17 percent came from local supplies.

In 1991 2.5 million people used 578 thousand acre-feet: 208 gallons per capita daily. In 2013 3.1 million people used slightly less water, 574 thousand acre-feet. In 2013 the per capita daily consumption was 153 gallons. While our population rose, our water usage decreased slightly. At the same time, jobs increased from 1.08 million to 1.3 million and our gross domestic product jumped from $112 billion dollars to $188 billion dollars. The cost of water per acre-foot (the treated full service rate) jumped from $555 to $1259.

There has been progress, however, towards diversification. In 1991 95 percent of our water supply came from the Metropolitan Water District. By 2013 only 46 percent came from there: the rest came from other sources. The Water Authority estimates that by 2020 we will have diverse sources of water. We will use six percent local surface water, six percent recycled water, nine percent desalinated seawater, 30 percent Metropolitan Water District, 24 percent IID Transfer, 10 percent Canal Lining transfer, 23 percent from conservation, and two percent from groundwater. SDCWA allows cooperation and interaction among the various sources of water. According to Kelly, “The major aqueducts running through the county consist of pipes up to 9-feet in diameter and include acoustic fiber optic cables. The technology enables the Water Authority to monitor pipe conditions, identify issues and repair them. Pumps can reverse flow to direct water from one part of the county to another.” Thus a major catastrophe would not leave us without any water. We have between two to six months’ water supply in the county.

This summer was one of our hottest summers. 82 percent of California is now in extreme or exceptional drought. It is the third driest year since 1895. Lakes are low; I have seen photographs of rusted cars and other types of debris now visible with the lower water level. The Sierra snowpack is seven percent of normal. Temperatures at Lindbergh field have been higher than normal in 11 of the past 12 months.

When the reserves get too low, “in response to current conditions, the need to keep water in storage, and the Governor’s drought declaration requiring water agencies to institute mandatory landscape watering restrictions,” stricter water restrictions become mandatory. Emergency storage consists of 500,000 acre-feet of water. In 2012 the Metropolitan Water District had 2.7 million acre-feet of dry-year storage. Right now they have less than 1.2 million acre-feet. Mooney warned, “If storage reserves drop too low and conditions continue to be dry, MWD may allocate supplies in 2015.

County water use did drop six percent in August.

The “cost of water will rise regardless of the amount of supplies. Costs related to the purchase and treatment of water are the biggest elements in the rate increase.” To conserve water as long as possible, we can do many things. Some not only save money on your water bill, but installing or purchasing them may get you a rebate. For example, the city will rebate up to one dollar per gallon of barrel storage capacity up to 400 gallons. Customers may also qualify for SoCalWaterSmart’s rebate of $75.00 per rain barrel with a four barrel limit, Although your rain barrels won’t hold enough water for all your landscape watering needs, water still needs to remain on its site instead of flowing down storm drains.

Water-efficient irrigation systems are available, and many qualify for SoCal WaterSmart rebates. “Smart-controllers” with weather regulators never water in rain. Another irrigation controller, a soil probe, signals when the soil is too dry. Replacing traditional spray heads with rotary nozzles is easy; the $4.00 per nozzle rebate covers most of its cost.

There are rebates for replacing your grass with succulents. Artificial turf is not part of the Water Authority’s turf rebate program, but MWD’s program allows it. Grass actually used by children is fine. Native grasses (e.g. Buffalo grass, Hachita, Blue Grama) use half as much water as cool-season turf. Not mowed, these grasses will create a meadow with foliage up to three feet high. Mowing requires maintenance, but it resembles lawn.

Replacing lawn with concrete, blacktop or rocks is a bad idea. Plants help cool the earth as they don’t reflect heat, and they produce oxygen. Trees provide shade in hot weather, and drought-tolerant trees are best. Kelly explained that a garden becomes drought tolerant after it is well-established.

Mooney recommends going on line for landscape ideas using low-water plants. If you let the city know you are doing so, you may use grey water for your garden. You do not need a permit, but the city wants to have a record of which homes are recycling their grey water and you should follow code requirements. A good source of information on what you can do and what can be done for you is Watersmartsd.org/residential guide. So is Whenindrought.org.

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About the Author ()

Barbara Strona is a native Californian who grew up in the Mid-West and Los Angeles. She and her architect husband, Carl, came to San Diego in 1968 and have lived in Mission Hills since early 1971. Barbara received a Bachelor of Arts from Scripps College with a major in English, and a minor in Art. She attended UCLA graduate school and received a General Secondary Credential. She taught English in Los Angeles, Pennsylvania, and at Point Loma High School. She has been a Realtor specializing in residential sales since 1984. Her passions include her job, reading, writing, foreign languages and foreign countries, animals (feathered or furry), theatre, and her family: husband, two adult children and two grandsons.