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Water Authority to consider first stage of drought plan at special meeting

The San Diego County Water Authority will consider activating its Water Shortage and Drought Response Plan at a special meeting Thursday, with staff recommending stepped-up calls for voluntary water conservation.

Conservation and potential next steps have been discussed in cities throughout the state since the January declaration of emergency drought conditions by Gov. Jerry Brown.

Although Northern California has been hit harder by the drought than Southern California and has fewer emergency reserves than areas such as San Diego, the governor has urged both halves of the state to take action.

The San Diego County Water Authority has maintained that the region is expected to have adequate water supplies for 2014, in part because of billions of dollars spent in the last 20 years in reservoir creation and upgrades, and water transfers made available by the 2003 Colorado River Quantification Settlement Agreement.

“This region has planned for dry periods and embraced water conservation as a way of life, but during these extraordinary times, each of us must take steps to use only the water that we need and conserve wherever we can,” Maureen Stapleton, general manager of the water authority, said in a Monday news release.

Water authority staff is recommending implementing the first stage of the agency’s drought response plan, which is activated only when drought conditions persist. It was last active from 2007 to spring 2011.

The response plan outlines progressive actions the water authority can take to avoid or minimize effects of supply challenges, with mandatory conservation calls withheld until the final stage. Stage 1 of the response plan is referred to by the water authority as the voluntary supply management stage.

Several days of rain in Northern California and a few feet of snow in the Sierra Nevada through the weekend have improved conditions, although precipitation levels and water equivalents in the Sierra Nevada remain well below normal.

On Jan. 31, snow-water equivalents for the northern, central and southern regions of the Sierra Nevada were at 5 percent, 18 percent and 21 percent, respectively, providing a statewide figure of about 15 percent. By Monday, the measurements had improved to 19 percent in the northern Sierra, 36 percent in the central, and 28 percent in the south, for a statewide improvement to 29 percent.

The water authority also uses its Model Drought Response Ordinance to increase consistency throughout the county on the response levels and water-use restrictions. A notification of a Level 1 Drought Watch to the water authority’s member agencies will be considered by the board on Thursday as well.

Conservation steps included in Level 1 watches typically include -- all on a voluntary basis -- calls for customers to wash paved surfaces only when necessary for health and safety, eliminating inefficient landscape irrigation and irrigating only before 10 a.m. and after 6 p.m.

For restaurants, there would be a call for voluntarily serving and refilling drinking water only on customer request.

The water authority's special meeting is planned for Thursday at 1 p.m. in the agency’s board room, 4677 Overland Ave. in San Diego.

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