Guest Opinion: By Wayne Rayfield, Director, South Coast Water District
“Nary a Drop to Drink”—Samuel Taylor Coleridge
These words from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner were penned in 1797 by the English poet. How prophetic they seem today as California and the southwest portion of the United States face the driest three-year period in 125 years and the worst two-year drought since the 1970s.
The reservoirs that supply our water from the State Water Project in the Bay area and the Colorado River are at alarmingly low levels—their lowest ever. Lake Powell is now at 50 percent of its capacity. This once beautiful and important lake that is vital to the electricity and potable water supplies for some 20 million people is now not much more than a muddy river along an empty riverbed.
Lake Mead formed by Hoover Dam (formerly Boulder Dam) is now at 40 percent of its capacity, its lowest level since the dam was built in the 1930s. The 40 million people who receive a portion of their water from Lake Mead may face more severe water shortages in the coming months and years.
State Water Project reservoirs that store water destined for Southern California are at similarly low critical levels. For example, both Folsom Lake and Oroville Lake are at historic lows, 36 percent and 26 percent of capacity, respectively. Their levels have been dropping daily by as much as a foot per day and the once thriving marinas that dot their shores are now high and dry.
Locally the drought has had a major impact on the San Juan Basin, the source of about 10 percent of our potable water supply. The South Coast Water District operates a Ground Water Recovery Facility, or GRF, along the San Juan Creek across from Creekside Park, just south of Stonehill Drive. We proactively shutdown the GRF In early September because the groundwater level in the basin was at a dangerously low level due to the drought. The City of San Juan Capistrano, which is much more reliant than we on the basin for its fresh-water supply, took a similar action in late September and two of its wells are now deactivated.
Some experts predict the drought is likely to persist into 2015 in spite of the forecast for a probable, but weak, El Niño this winter. Other experts have suggested that the current dry situation will be “the new normal” and have referred to Southern California’s wet weather pattern over the last decades as “anomalous.” Whether or not it’s a drought or the new normal, we all need to work together to save water that is so critical to our lives and our local economy.
South Coast Water District and other water districts and municipalities throughout California and the Southwest have been working aggressively to develop a more reliable, drought-proof water supply, convert fresh water uses to recycled water and encourage water conservation.
Among other steps, over the last 10 years or so, SCWD has:
- Invested millions to increase the supply of recycled water and make it more suitable for certain irrigation applications.
- Initiated an innovative home-leak detection program that identified approximately 1,000 homes that had serious but unrecognized leaks, most of which are now corrected.
- Offered financial help, in the form of rebates, for water-saving investments in new appliances, turf removal, drought tolerant plants and similar actions.
- Led a local effort to build an ocean desalination facility at Doheny State Beach with Laguna Beach County Water District and others in South County. We are committed to bringing the “Doheny Desal Project” to fruition.
The above steps and others have helped somewhat in reducing water consumption. However, we are far short of the goal announced by Governor Brown in January of this year to reduce consumption by 20 percent in 2014. In fact, so far this year, local consumption has increased by approximately one percent compared to 2013.
Obviously we all need to take the most immediate step and conserve more–particularly in regard to outside irrigation. (Landscape irrigation presently accounts for up to 60 percent of the potable water used in our community.) To this end, the SCWD Board of Directors at its meeting on November 13 updated the District’s Water Conservation Ordinance to limit landscape irrigation using potable water to one day a week for a maximum of 10 minutes per sprinkler controller. (There are no restrictions on the use of recycled water.) The change to one day a week becomes effective on Monday, December 1 and will remain in effect until further notice.
It is imperative that we all take water conservation seriously and that we do everything possible to prevent wasteful uses. Thank you for your past and on-going efforts in this regard and thank you in advance for adhering to the new ordinance requirements.
If you would like any additional information on the ordinance, assistance with leak detection and correction, available rebates or any other topic please call the SCWD customer service department at 949.499.4555 or go to www.scwd.org. We will be glad to hear from you and will work with you in any way possible to help you conserve water. If you prefer, please contact me directly via email at email@example.com.
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