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Monday, Jul 15, 2024

Drought Guidelines Vary By Agency, Mostly Still Voluntary

If the turf grass at Balboa Park appears to be a little less green during hot summer days, it is due to a recent voluntary effort to restrict water usage throughout San Diego’s largest urban park following new drought guidelines.

Earlier this year, city officials voted to move San Diego to drought level one, which encourages everyone in the city to be more efficient with their water use and includes certain mandatory restrictions, said Robyn Bullard, senior public information officer at the city of San Diego.

“San Diego’s Park and Recreation Department is the biggest user of water in the city of San Diego with 70 percent of water usage,” Bullard said.

While the city continues its efforts to reduce water usage, at a July City Council Environmental Committee meeting, staff members opted against moving past drought level one — at least for now.

The worsening drought conditions meanwhile led the San Diego County Water Authority directors to declare a level two drought alert effective Aug. 1, following the state’s efforts to increase water conservation efforts.

Mandates Up to Each City

The water authority, however, leaves it up to the city councils and water district boards to take action on how to restrict water use in their respective jurisdictions, according to Dana Friehauf, water resources manager at the San Diego County Water Authority.

While the majority of the water authority’s 24 member agencies have moved to mandate a three-day-a-week watering schedule, which is part of the drought level two conservation effort, the city merely encourages it.

Mario Llanos, district manager at Balboa Park Operations, said that Balboa Park voluntarily implemented the three-day watering schedule.

It took a few days to adjust to the new three-day watering schedule, down from five days a week, he said. The measure will likely have a temporary esthetic effect.

“It’s had an impact on the esthetics on the turf spaces during the heat when they’d like more water, but the turf will bounce back during the cooler temperatures,” Llanos said.

Park’s System Is 100-Years Old

Llanos said it’s difficult to say exactly how much water Balboa Park is actually using given its size — at 1,172 acres, it’s the city’s largest urban park — as well as its water infrastructure, which is more than a century old.

Even so, the park has made significant efforts in the last few years to improve its irrigation system and conservation efforts.

Llanos noted that the park’s irrigation system is computerized and runs off the weather station, which will tell it, based on humidity and temperature levels, how to use water efficiently.

In the last year, it also planted drought-friendly plants and replaced its old spray system with rotating,

low-water-use nozzles to limit runoff.

Friehauf said that drought level two, which went into effect on July 29, mandatory conservation efforts include eliminating run-off from irrigation systems, using hoses with shut-off valves for washing cars, turning off water fountains unless they use recycled water and limiting outdoor watering days and times.

“The only two entities that don’t fall under this category are agriculture and nurseries,” Friehauf said.

Current conservation efforts don’t call for specific reductions in water use, but that could change, if the drought worsens, she noted.

“The state of California did not institute a certain percentage cutback level in water use, and we fully support that,” Friehauf said.

Education Preferred to Fines

Though the state water authority allows member agencies to levy a fine of up to $500 per day for violators, Friehauf said that most agencies prefer educating people and giving warnings to first-time violators rather than levying a penalty.

“The business community has done a great job in conserving water and we don’t want to penalize them,” Friehauf said. “We encourage businesses to conserve water to have it available for next year.”

Bullard echoed this view.

“By in large, most people want to comply,” Bullard said. “So far nobody has been fined, but there is a process in place.”

According to the water authority, the San Diego region has conserved about 20 percent more water than they did in 2007. The proposed level two drought alert aims to conserve water by another 20 percent.

Some local industry groups say they have already upped their efforts to conserve water and don’t feel that the new drought level will have a big impact on them.

Melanie Nally, associate director of local government and regulatory affairs at BIOCOM, Southern California’s largest life sciences industry association, said that the new water use restrictions haven’t impacted San Diego’s life sciences companies.

That is because, “the restrictions imposed on Aug. 1 are related to watering lawns, washing cars and decorative water features,” Nally wrote in an email. “Also, it is important to note that because most of the life sciences companies in our region are small and young, they tend to inhabit facilities that use less water and power than most businesses.”

Beer Brewers Feel Impact

The brewmaster at Stone Brewery Co. in Escondido noted that the drought has impacted its operations but also led it to look for ways to use water more efficiently.

“So far, the biggest impact has been the mineral content of the water we receive,” Mitch Steele, Stone brewmaster, wrote in an email. “The hardness went up significantly a while ago because the reservoirs are so low, putting a significant strain on our reverse osmosis processes, but we are managing it.”

He noted that the brewery is working to raise the amount of reclaimed water and storage capabilities to reduce its water use.

“Currently, we use about four gallons of water for every gallon of beer that is packaged, which is good and much lower than the industry average,” Steele said. He added that efforts to reduce even more water continue.

Friehauf meanwhile hopes that other businesses and residents will do their part to conserve water.

“The more people conserve water now, the more water we can keep in storage to help us for 2015,” Friehauf said.


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