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Local water district responds to regional restrictions, launches outreach campaign

By SARA HALL

A local water commission this week launched an outreach and education campaign following a regional water importer declaring a water shortage emergency and announcing related restrictions.

At the Laguna Beach County Water District commission meeting on Tuesday (May 10), LBCWD Assistant General Manager Christopher Regan provided an overview of the regional restrictions and the district’s outreach efforts. 

A lot has happened related to the drought in recent weeks, Regan noted. 

The most notable update is that the Metropolitan Water District’s Board of Directors recently declared a water shortage emergency for State Water Project-dependent areas and executed an unprecedented emergency water conservation program. 

Water for most of Southern California comes from diverse supplies. But some communities, through the State Water Project, rely on water from Northern California and/or have limited or no access to water from the Colorado River or local resources. 

MWD’s conservation program requires member agencies dependent on SWD deliveries to immediately cut water use by implementing the one-day-a-week watering restriction by June 1. 

Metropolitan’s cut will impact about six million residents. The restrictions, unanimously adopted by Metropolitan’s board during a special meeting on April 26, apply to dozens of cities and communities in Southern California. Metropolitan supplies water to both LB County Water District and South Coast Water District. 

During years with average precipitation, about 85% of SCWD water is imported and 15% comes from the district’s brackish water desalination plant. Although the amount of imported water can go up to 100% during times of drought.

LBCWD gets their water from local groundwater supplies and imported water from either the Colorado River or from Northern California. 

In response to Metropolitan’s water shortage declaration and related restrictions, LB County Water District is launching a campaign to remind and encourage residents to conserve water.

“The district is starting to ramp up our outreach education program,” Regan said during Tuesday’s meeting. 

A lot will be happening in the next month, he added. District staff will return to the commission in June with more specific recommendations, which could include implementing mandatory water use restrictions, like limiting outdoor watering during the summer. 

District staff is also running an analysis on water budgets, Regan said. 

“We’re doing an analysis to see – if we know if it’s reduced – the amount of individual budgets…So, we’re doing an analysis to see what percentage that is of overall usage, that’s going to help determine where we want to go with regards to what we can come back at,” he explained.

The LB County Water District has taken “bold steps” to reduce water use, including implementing stage two of their Water Shortage Contingency Plan in September and urging customers to voluntarily cut back water usage by 20%. But more must be done to prepare for the possibility of an extended dry period, Regan noted in the staff report.

“In our efforts to mitigate shortages and rationing in the future and extend the state’s diminishing water supplies, district staff is launching an enhanced communications effort this summer,” he wrote in the report. 

January, February and March, typically the wettest months of the year, turned out to be the driest on record for California, Regan noted. As the drought persists and conditions worsen amidst dry, hot weather, state officials are encouraging suppliers to further conserve water in an effort to strengthen drought resiliency. 

Local water district responds drought signage

Click on photo for a larger image

Courtesy LBCWD 

Jose Gallardo, the LBCWD’s water use efficiency technician, with drought signage in 2021 

The campaign will include a number of outreach efforts, including: Direct mail postcards on the latest drought conditions; extended leak detection on all customer accounts; a message regarding the drought and the need to cut usage printed on all customer bills; a district booth at the LB farmers market; press releases and ads in local news outlets; communicating with homeowners associations to offer landscape irrigation surveys; a drought update page on the district’s website directing residents to rebate programs and water use efficiency tips; monthly email blasts to subscribed customers providing updates on district WUE programs, rebates and updates on drought conditions; and expanded social media outreach.

There are also plans to send a letter to all restaurants in the district service area reminding them to only serve water on request. 

All customers that go into tier two by 10 or more units will receive a letter reminding them of the importance to stay within their budget due to the severe drought conditions.

Drought messaging will also be displayed throughout the summer on the district’s three billboards, located on Laguna Canyon Road, corner of Nyes Place and Coast Highway and at the district’s headquarters. 

Laguna Beach CWD will also participate in a new statewide “Quench CA” public information campaign spearheaded by Association of California Water Agencies. 

Officials confirmed in a statement that the MWD “will not directly impose the restrictions on consumers, but rather require its member agencies that are receiving SWP supplies to enforce the watering limits.”

Individual agencies are allowed to choose the day of the week and determine enforcement protocols. Agencies that don’t enforce the one-day-a-week watering restrictions or exceed their volumetric limits would face financial penalties from Metropolitan.

MWD’s action allows for hand watering of trees to maintain the natural urban canopy.

“We’re doing everything we can to alleviate the immediate crisis and make investments to avoid this from happening again. But now we need the public’s help,” Metropolitan Chairwoman Gloria Gray said in a prepared statement. “We can get through this by working together.”

Local water district responds waterwise

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

A waterwise sign at the recent Gate & Garden Tour

All outdoor watering could be banned as early as September if enough water is conserved in the coming months, Metropolitan General Manager Adel Hagekhalil warned in an MWD press release. 

“The reality is, this drought has left us without the water supply we need to meet normal demands in these areas,” Hagekhalil said in the prepared statement. “To make sure we have enough water for their basic human health and safety needs, everyone in these communities must immediately and dramatically reduce their water use.”

The drought has caused a reduction in deliveries over the last three years and now communities are facing shortages. 

“Metropolitan has never before employed this type of restriction on outdoor water use. But we are facing unprecedented reductions in our Northern California supplies, and we have to respond with unprecedented measures,” Hagekhalil said. “We’re adapting to climate change in real time.”

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Sara Hall covers City Hall and is a regular contributor to Stu News Laguna.