Emergency Water Regulations Update

San Diegans Waste No Water Wasting Water is not an Option

Changes to the City's Emergency Water Regulations

The region's water supplies remain impacted by extremely dry conditions around California. Over the last year, these conditions have significantly reduced storage in key reservoirs, as well as exacerbated an eight-year drought in the Colorado River basin.

In addition to environmental stresses, court-ordered pumping restrictions on the State Water Project, designed to protect threatened fish species, went into effect in December 2007, cutting water supplies from the Bay-Delta to 25 million Californians who live from the Bay Area to San Diego. At this point it is not clear how long these restrictions will be in place, but it is expected that the timing and amount of pumping will continue to restrict southern California water supplies for the next several years.

In response to the supply situation, on July 27, 2008, the Mayor recommended and Council approved the Declaration of Water Emergency under the City's current Emergency Water Regulations. In addition, a Stage 1 - Water Watch - Voluntary Conservation was also enacted to formally request customers voluntarily modify their behaviors to conserve water. The City Water Department has continued to monitor and report on the status of conservation levels being attained. However, should more severe demand restrictions be necessary, the department has recommended amendments to the existing Emergency Water Regulations originally developed in 1991 in order to reflect improved analysis of water demand sensitivities, clarify demand target levels based upon supply availability, improve communication and improve the City's overall demand response program going forward.

County Water Authority Model Drought Ordinance

In March of this year, the County Water Authority (CWA) approved a Model Drought Ordinance designed to improve consistency between its member agencies when responding to regional water supply shortages. This model ordinance specified and clarified behavioral restrictions on the use of water in the event consumer demand reductions are necessary in order to meet expected supplies. The CWA intended that the model ordinance be considered for adoption by all its member agencies throughout the fall of 2008. While agencies currently have existing drought response ordinances in place, the language in these existing ordinances typically do not have specific demand reduction targets and there are inconsistencies between agencies in the behavioral restrictions and "drought stage" responses required of their customers.

The Water Department has reviewed the elements incompassed within the Model Ordinance and has considered the impact on customers of the various proposed behavioral restricitions, enforcement mechanisms, and appeal process contained therein. As a result, and in light of the supply situation described above, amendments to the existing Water Emergency Regulations have been adopted by City Council on December 2, 2008. The following discussion indentifies the key processes, behavioral restrictions, and/or implementation and enforcement efforts encompassed in the new language which differ from the current Municipal Code.

Water Waste Prohibitions

A new section provides for year-round water waste prohibitions. Many of the prohibited behaviors identified in this section were previously identified in Muncipal Code Secton 67.3806 - Water Conservation Stages. However, there has been some ambiguity regarding whether or not these behaviors could be enforced under the existing code without a formal declaration of water emergency under Section 67.3804. In order to eliminate this ambiguity, and, more importantly, to minimize wasteful use of water, this new section specifies behaviors that will be prohibited year-round, regardless of formal drought declaration.

Procedures for Determination and Notification of Drought Response Level

This section provides the framework for officially notifying the public of the existence of various drought response levels, as well as the effective date of the prohibitions outlined at each level. Generally, the mandatory restrictions provided in Level 2, 3, or 4 will take effect 10 days after the declaration of such a level, with publication of a notice of the resolution declaring such drought response level 5 days after such declaration. Any water allocations established by the City will be effective on the 5th day following the date of such notice, or at such later date as specified in the notice of such allocations.

Section 9.0 also provides that the City may declare an end to a Drought Response Level upon the recommendation of the Mayor and adoption by the Council at any regular or special meeting of the City Council.

Hardship Variance

The existing Water Emergency Regulations do not specifically provide the ability for a customer to seek a variance from the restricitions outlined. This new Section 10 provides for such a process. The language outlines the specific provisions under which a customer can receive such a variance. Key provisions require: a finding of "undue hardship" that is disproportionate to the impacts of other similar water customers due to specific and unique circumstances; that the variance does not constitute a special privilege; a finding that no substantial detriment occurs to adjacent properties and will not materially affect the ability of the City to effectuate the purpose of the ordinance nor be detrimental to the public interest.

PDF icon Applications for variance must be submitted in writing with all supporting documentation. The Mayor or his/her designee will act on the application and respond with a written notification to the customer of any action taken.

Violations and Penalties

The penalties called out in this final section remain substantively unchanged from the existing Municipal Code provisions, which provide for administrative and civil penalties pursuant to the general provisions governing violations of the Municipal Code. Penalties associated with water allocation over-consumption will be identified and approved separately as part of Council consideration of any proposed water allocation regulations.

General Considerations Regarding the Amendments

The water demand response plan encompassed in the amendments represents a clearer and more aggressive approach towards achieving reductions in water consumption in times of supply shortage. While efforts were made to evaluate and mitigate as much as possible the impacts to all City of San Diego water customers, residents, business, and public institutions alike, it is clear that the proposed revisions do not, and in reality, cannot address all the varied end-uses of water which will be impacted. It is the case that most of the anticipated savings in water will come from a reduction in outdoor irrigation and as a result, most of the behavioral restrictions address such use. However, as proposed, there are restrictions that will effect commercial uses as well and the proposed amendments seek to balance the potential reductions likely to be achieved with the need to ensure all customer classes were contributing towards water reduction targets.

Finally, the ordinance speaks only to behavioral restrictions, with only "enabling language" regarding water use allocations. As a result, these behavioral restrictions proposed do not necessarily ensure that reduction targets can be met. Indeed, while it is likely that water usage will be reduced, one could forsee a customer complying with the provisions of this ordinance and still not achieve the specific level of demand reduction necessary. It is on this basis that the Water Department will provide, under separate request for Council action, its recommendation for the establishment of end user water consumption allocations, which can be monitored through the metering and billing processes.