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If drought persists, SLO could run out of water in 3 to 4 years

If San Luis Obispo residents don’t conserve more, the city could run out of water in three and a half years under worst-case drought conditions.

Even if the community cuts water by the 12 percent target set by state water regulators, San Luis Obispo could run out of water in four and half years if drought continues, according to a report that will be presented to the City Council on June 2.

“The last two winters have been so dry that if we have one more, we’ll have to re-evaluate everything,” said Ron Munds, San Luis Obispo’s utilities services manager. “This is a pivotal winter coming up.”

The council will consider declaring a drought emergency, which will allow city officials to quickly respond and take further reduction measures if the state’s severe drought continues.

In addition, city utilities staff is proposing several steps in response to the drought:

  • Actively enforcing its water-waste rules;
  • Limiting outdoor landscape watering to two days a week between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. (watering is currently allowed three days a week);
  • Deferring landscape planting or modified landscape plans for new development;
  • Regulating the use of a nonpotable groundwater well at the city’s corporation yard.
  • Re-establishing a toilet and washing-machine rebate program, with $100 rebates for property owners who retrofit their homes with high-efficiency toilets and/or washing machines.
  • The measures will be voluntary — but if the city doesn’t meet the state target to cut water use by 12 percent compared to 2013, city staff plans to return to the council with a recommendation to put mandatory water-rationing measures in place.

    The 12 percent cut would reduce per capita use to 101 gallons per person per day.

    The city will hold a public forum Thursday to discuss the city’s water supply, its water rates and a current process to increase rates, the drought response plan and the drought’s impact on development.

    The city’s water projection model last year, using information from 1986-90 drought conditions, estimated that San Luis Obispo had six to seven years of water available.

    But staff updated the modeling with climatic data for 2012-14, which has become the new “worst-case scenario” used in the model.

    The new information shows that the city has about 3.5 years worth of water as of April, if the community continues its per capita use of 108 gallons per person per day and the city continues to receive below-normal rainfall.

    By comparison, Cambria residents averaged 40 gallons of water per person per day last September, according to state data, and water use that month in Grover Beach was 52 gallons per person per day.

    “We need to push that consumption level down so it would extend out past that time frame,” Munds said.

    The modeling takes new development into account, he said. City staff estimated that all new developments that could happen in the next year to three years, including commercial and residential projects, would use about 70 acre-feet of water a year (an acre-foot is equal to about 325,850 gallons).

    The entire city uses about 5,500 acre-feet of water a year.

    City staff is already responding to complaints of water waste. Warnings have been given, but no citations have been issued. Complaints can be made online at http://www.slocity.org/Home/Components/ServiceDirectory/ServiceDirectory/51/1252.

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