Coastkeeper: Voluntary water conservation a good first step but enough?
by Staff and contribution
Feb 13, 2014 | 2649 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Citing 2013 as California’s driest year on record, city officials echoed the San Diego County Water Authority’s claim that the region has plentiful water in storage and called on the community to do more to conserve in light of the state’s formal drought declaration.

San Diego Coastkeeper, which protects fishable, swimmable and drinkable waters, praised the city for its call to conservation, but warns that voluntary measures may not be enough to ensure water supply.

“As water importers, we have a responsibility to conserve when our end-of-pipe habits have devastating effects rippling throughout the western United States,” said Matt O’Malley, global policy director for the waterkeeper movement. Coastkeeper is one of a dozen waterkeeper organizations in California alone.

“We import over 80 percent of our water from outside the region, which means the low snowpack and the drying Colorado River have major implications on our water supply,” he said.

O’Malley said the drought can serve as a good educational tool to inform the public as to why permanent conservation methods are a necessary part of life in San Diego. Regionally, he said, almost 60 percent of the drinking water supply is used on outdoor irrigation.

“I’d like to see the city investigate and implement permanent scheduled irrigation in San Diego as part of its Water Wise Program,” said O’Malley, who will request the city’s Environment Committee to amend municipal code chapter 6. He said he’d like the code to include mandatory and permanent irrigation scheduling of two days per week maximum, or a similarly restrictive localized schedule, and restrictive timeframes on the duration of the watering to maximize water conservation. “This restriction should be the new normal in San Diego.”

To give it perspective, O’Malley said Dallas, Texas, adopted an ordinance that made maximum twice-weekly watering mandatory in 2012. According to Dallas officials, it’s too early to share concrete numbers, but they said they have seen a reduction in consumption since enacting the ordinance in 2012.

History shows water restrictions work in San Diego, too. When the county Water Authority enacted mandatory restriction in 2009, county residents responded by conserving around 20 percent. And in 2009 to 2011, the region reduced its water use by 14 percent.

With warnings that the state water project, which delivers water from Northern California to central and Southern California, will not be transferring water this year, O’Malley said now is the time for the city to recognize the interconnectedness of the state’s water system. He said water-use habits affect the entire state and southwest region of the U.S.

“We can no longer depend on increasing water imports from the Colorado River — it’s drying up,” said O’Malley. “While that strategy has worked for several years, and it’s why our water storage appears healthy right now, it’s not going to last.”

In addition to mandatory conservation, O’Malley said he is asking the city and the county Water Authority to prioritize potable reuse as part of their sustainable and informed long-range plans.

For more information on San Diego Coastkeeper and water-supply solutions, visit www.sdcoastkeeper.org.

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