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Mandatory conservation to be considered at Water Authority

San Diego County businesses and residents could be looking at local mandatory water restrictions if recommendations from the San Diego County Water Authority's staff are adopted at the agency's board meeting next week.

On Tuesday evening, the Water Authority announced its plan to present the staff recommendation to its board of directors for consideration on July 24.

The announcement came on the heels of emergency regulations approved earlier Tuesday by the State Water Resources Control Board, stating that beginning Aug. 1, certain conservation mandates focused on ornamental landscapes and turf grass that use potable water will be in force.

The local response may include the Water Authority notifying its member agencies of a Level 2 Drought Alert, which includes some mandatory restrictions, through its Model Drought Response Ordinance.

“Regional investments and a demonstrated commitment to conservation have buffered San Diego County from the worst effects of the drought so far, but we believe the right thing to do now is to move to mandatory water conservation measures,” Maureen Stapleton, general manager of the Water Authority.

The Water Authority declared a Level 1 Drought Watch, which calls for voluntary conservation, on Feb. 13. A Level 2 Drought Alert would make the voluntary measures mandatory, and add outdoor watering restrictions. Outdoor landscape irrigation would be restricted to no more than three days per week through October, and restricted further for the cooler months of November through May if the alert is maintained.

Conservation measures in Level 2 include evening and early morning watering requirements, elimination of irrigation runoff, 72-hour windows for all leak repairs and the shutoff of fountains not using recycled water.

Additionally, the use of shut-off valves on hoses would be required, and restaurants could only serve water to customers upon request, hotel guests must be offered the option of not having towels and linens laundered daily and construction sites must use recycled or nonpotable water when it's available.

Dana Friehauf, acting water resources manager for the Water Authority, said the days and times specified for the restricted water uses would be determined separately by each jurisdiction and member agency.

"Some of our local agencies are already going to take action in the next couple of weeks -- go to a Level 2," Friehauf said. "And I can tell you why, because with this emergency regulation, if a water supplier does not go to a mandatory (conservation) level -- it doesn't have to be Level 2 as long as they're at a mandatory level -- they will be fined $10,000 per day that they are not at a mandatory level."

Stapleton said voluntary efforts have been challenging. Though temperatures have been generally seasonal for several weeks in San Diego, a warm stretch in the spring was accompanied by increased water use during the first few months of the year.

Overall through fiscal 2014, the Water Authority estimates that regional water use increased about 3.5 percent over the previous fiscal year. The agency notes, however, that despite the small increase, regional water use is still down 20 percent from 2007 levels.

Ken Weinberg, director of water resources for the Water Authority, said steps need to be taken to prepare for a potentially fourth dry year in a row in 2015.

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