San Diego City Council committee considers 'drought watch' proposal

SAN DIEGO - The City Council is scheduled Wednesday to take the first step in calling for residents to conserve water on a voluntary basis following the third straight winter with below-average rainfall.

The council's Environment Committee will be asked to pass a proposal declaring a "drought watch" in San Diego. If later approved by the full City Council, residents would be asked to take a series of measures so that overall water use in San Diego can be reduced by 10 percent.

Drought watch measures include:
   -- limiting landscape irrigation to three assigned days per week;
   -- requiring the use of shut-off nozzles or timed garden hose sprinkler systems if watering without an irrigation system;
   -- washing vehicles on the same assigned days as irrigation, with some exceptions;
   -- using recycled or non-potable water for construction purposes;
   -- using hydrants only to fight fires; and
   -- prohibiting irrigation when it rains.

City and state officials and the San Diego County Water Authority have previously asked residents to begin stepping up water conservation efforts. For the first time, deliveries were stopped by the State Water Project, but that action was recently amended to allow 5 percent of the normal distribution.

Enough water is expected to be on hand to meet demand for the rest of this year, but officials believe a fourth dry winter will lead to shortages.

However, climate experts say an El Nino condition -- a warming of Pacific Ocean water that often substantially increases winter rainfall in California -- is developing.

Until then, county water officials have asked residents to wash down paved surfaces only when necessary for health and safety; eliminate inefficient landscape irrigation, such as runoff and overspray; irrigate only before 10 a.m. and after 6 p.m.; and serve and refill water at restaurants only on request.

According to the SDCWA, per capita potable water use in the San Diego area has decreased about 27 percent since 2007, and local cities and water districts are on pace to meet their state-mandated water-efficiency targets for 2020. Total regional consumption of potable water in fiscal year 2013 was 24 percent lower than in fiscal year 2007.

San Diego imports 85 percent of its water supply. Halla Razak, director of the city's Public Utilities Department, said the region has 2 1/2 times more storage capacity than five years ago and receives twice as much water from the Colorado River.

The committee is also expected to receive an update on the volunteer committee that tried to put together a yearlong celebration of Balboa Park's centennial next year. Balboa Park Celebration Inc. has turned over planning for the event to the city, is winding down its operations and releasing records on how its money was spent.

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