Emergency water regulations get OK

Dead trees emerge from dry mud where receding waters expose the bottom of New Melones Reservoir.

CCWD shoots for 32 percent reduction

Mandatory emergency water regulations aimed at forcing water customers to dramatically reduce outdoor irrigation were approved Tuesday by the California’s State Water Resources Control Board.

Although the statewide goal is a 25 percent reduction, customers of the Calaveras County Water District are expected to achieve a collective reduction of 32 percent.

“This is the drought of the century, with greater impact than anything our parents and grandparents experienced and we have to act accordingly,” said Felicia Marcus, chairwoman of the State Water Resources Control Board.

Water agencies serving 3,000 or more connections were assigned to one of eight reduction levels based on how many gallons of water per day per person customers used last summer. Those in the first tier use the smallest amount of water, 65 gallons per day per capita or less. Those communities, cities such as Arcata, San Francisco and Santa Cruz, will have to make an 8 percent cutback.

The water use picture is very different in arid inland and foothill areas, where many homes have substantial outdoor landscaping.

Calaveras County Water District was in the seventh tier, with an average of 180 gallons per day per capita. That’s why CCWD was assigned a 32 percent cutback.

Local water agencies have the power to fine customers up to $500 a day for wasting water, although that has rarely happened statewide. CCWD in March reported receiving 10 complaints about water use and issued three warning letters.

Water agencies that fail to meet state conservation goals face possible fines of up to $10,000 per day.

Joel Metzger, CCWD’s community relations manager, said that on Wednesday, district staff members will present the district board with proposed measures to achieve the cutback.

Metzger said the proposed regulation will focus on reducing water for irrigation of turf and ornamental landscaping. Staff members will likely propose limiting outdoor watering to two days a week.

The district has, since last summer, already had in place its Stage 3 conservation measures. Among other things, the district’s Stage 3 measure limits outdoor watering to three days a week.

Metzger said that district staff members want to avoid going to Stage 4, which bans the use of outdoor irrigation systems. Under Stage 4, CCWD customers could water outdoors only using hand-carried containers.

Metzger described the proposal that the board will consider next week as “Stage 3 Plus.”

Metzger said CCWD staff members are also compiling data that could prompt state officials to revise the per-capita water use statistics in a way that could reduce the agency’s reduction target.

He said that the county’s population is higher in the summer because many second homeowners and visitors are here then. He said that was not reflected in the year-round base population figures the state used the first time around.

A larger population base would tip the math to result in a lower gallons-per-person figure for last summer. Metzger said CCWD officials hope that could push the district down into a lower tier with a conservation target of only 28 percent, or even less.

All of the other water agencies in Calaveras County have fewer than 3,000 customers and so are covered by a blanket state order requiring a 25 percent cutback in water use.

Metzger praised CCWD customers for achieving an 18.4 percent reduction in water use compared to 2013 for the period from June 11, 2014, through February of this year.

He said the 32 percent reduction will be much more difficult, and may require sacrifice, and that even tougher decisions may lie ahead.

“If we have another year of drought, many of our reservoirs may have little to no water in them. Yes, this is going to be a big sacrifice, but if this drought continues, this is just going to be the beginning of what we have to do to come together to get through this drought.”

​​Contact Dana M. Nichols at dana@calaverasenterprise.com or call 498-2052.

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