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Feb. meetings could decide next steps on drought response

When the San Diego County Water Authority Board of Directors meets on Feb. 27, it may provide a clearer picture of where it's headed in response to Gov. Jerry Brown's drought declaration.

According to Dana Friehauf, acting water resource manager for the authority, input will have been gathered by then from the authority's various member agencies following Brown's declaration earlier this month.

At the Jan. 23 meeting of the Water Authority's board, Friehauf said she and her staff will provide an update on local and statewide water supply and demand.

Action at the authority, pending any decisions made at future meetings, is for now limited to close monitoring of supply and demand conditions while the authority maintains its water-use efficiency message.

After Brown's declaration, the authority announced that its diversity of sources has left San Diego more protected than many other parts of the state.

The governor's call to action was for Californians to voluntarily reduce water use by 20 percent, and his emergency declaration loosened certain regulations to allow voluntary water transfers in the state to be carried out more quickly.

Presentations given at last week's board meeting from Friehauf and Lesley Dobalian -- an authority water resources specialist --largely mirrored the authority's comments immediately following the governor's declaration.

In their remarks, the two provided a look into how the Water Authority arrived at its reaction to the governor's announcement, particularly its reasoning for not immediately jumping to its Water Shortage and Drought Response Plan.

Unlike areas in the state's northern half, the southern half has access to the Colorado River Basin water -- creating a markedly different situation for agencies like the Water Authority that have established agreements for Colorado River water, Dobalian said.

And specific to the Water Authority as a wholesale distributor of water, other investments have added to that higher level of stability, she added.

Dobalian noted that the most recent snowpack report for the state, recorded on Jan. 22, showed that snowpack has decreased to 13 percent of normal and 7 percent in the northern Sierra Nevada.

But she contrasted that picture by saying that Cororado River Basin conditions are near average, or are just under average.

"Conditions are certainly better there," Dobalian said. "Conditions have been dry here locally, although not as dry as in Central and Northern California."

Local reservoir storage, she said, is at about 220,000 acre-feet, or about 76 percent of normal.

She also presented figures from 2006, 2007and 2011 to draw comparisons to the present situation – 2006 was a wet year preceding the dry 2007 that sparked the last drought declaration, while 2011 was another wet year.

At the end of 2013, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, a major supplier for the Water Authority, ended its water storage at 2.4 million acre-feet -- about the same as the measurement at the end of 2011, Dobalian said.

The 2.4 million acre-feet measure was also 200,000 more acre-feet than what was measured at the end of 2006, she added, and 600,000 more acre-feet than what was measured at the end of 2007.

Friehauf said that indicators for 2007 and present conditions were compared, as a way to see how current plans measure up with the time just before former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a drought emergency in 2008.

Measurements of one indicator — total water use — showed that water use around San Diego County is down 20 percent from 2007. Another indicator was supplies at local water agencies, which she said were up.

"We've seen a huge increase in our Colorado River transfer supplies, and in turn, we've obviously seen a decrease in our reliance on Metropolitan's supplies," Friehauf said. "These are the indicators we're looking at now in determining what potential actions to take this year."

The Feb. 18 member agency managers meeting will give the Water Authority a chance to hear directly from its member agencies the impacts they are experiencing, Friehauf said.

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