SLO residents must cut water use or face possible rationing this summer

Residents get information about the city's limited water supply and ways to conserve water at a meeting Thursday night in San Luis Obispo.
Residents get information about the city's limited water supply and ways to conserve water at a meeting Thursday night in San Luis Obispo.

Mandatory water rationing could be put in place later this year in San Luis Obispo if the community doesn’t cut its water use over the next few months.

“If around August we’re not seeing the reductions we need, we’ll have to go to mandatory rationing,” Ron Munds, San Luis Obispo's utilities services manager, said during a water forum hosted by the city Thursday.

“For residential customers, we need for you to save about 10 gallons of water a day,” Munds said, holding up two orange 5-gallon buckets.

About 60 people attended Thursday’s forum, where booths featured information about the city’s water supply, its use of recycled water and drought regulations. A panel discussion followed with information on the city’s drought response plan, how the city will cut its use and why new development is continuing to occur.

Under state water regulations, San Luis Obispo has to cut its use by 12 percent as compared to 2013. But in order to make that happen, Munds said, water customers need to cut their use significantly in June, July and August — months when people typically use more water for landscaping.

The 12 percent cut would reduce per capita use to 101 gallons per person per day. That number refers to overall city use; residents are currently using about 72 gallons per person per day.

If the city isn’t on track to meet this goal, mandatory measures could be put into place in stages to cut water use. For example, residents in single family homes would have to cut water use to 60 gallons per day in a “stage 2” scenario, or to 50 gallons per person per day if “stage 3” were declared.

Several other communities in San Luis Obispo County have already declared emergencies or are rationing water. Residents in Cambria and Los Osos are allocated 50 gallons of water per day per person, with punitive rates added to the bills of those who exceed their allocations.

Grover Beach has been under a stage 3 shortage for nearly a year; all customers must cut water use by 10 percent or face penalties.

The San Luis Obispo City Council on Tuesday 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. If mandatory rationing were put in place, commercial customers would receive a water allocation based on past water use.

“We know different types of businesses use water differently,” Munds said. “Right now we’re just encouraging businesses to think about saving water and to encourage their employees to do so as well.”

San Luis Obispo resident Nancy Welts, who attended Thursday’s forum, said she’s already stopped washing her car, is taking shorter showers and is following the “if it’s yellow, let it mellow” rule.

Welts is secretary of the board of the Santa Lucia Hills Master Homeowners Association with 530 homes and condos in the Tank Farm/Broad Street area. The association is discussing changing its requirements on how much lawn owners are required to maintain.

“We’ve done a lot,” said Welts. “I think that we can still do more.”

Water supply limited

The city’s latest water projection model 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.

Three main conditions contributed to the model, according to a report to be presented to the City Council on Tuesday: the Nacimiento pipeline was offline for 10 months while leaks were repaired; a historic lack of rainfall in 2013 was followed by about 50 percent below normal in 2014; and above-average temperatures and windy conditions increased evaporation.

City staff will continue to monitor data from its three primary water sources — Nacimiento, Whale Rock and Salinas (Santa Margarita Lake) reservoirs — and adjust the model based on any changes in conditions.

The city has rights to 3,380 acre-feet of water every year from Nacimiento on a water year that ends Sept. 30. Currently, there’s about 1,800 acre-feet in Salinas and 5,777 acre-feet available in Whale Rock, said Aaron Floyd, deputy director-water in the city’s utilities department.

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

(An acre-foot is equal to 325,850 gallons; a single-family home uses about a third of an acre-foot a year, Community Development Director Derek Johnson said.)

Development concerns

A drought response strategy going to the City Council on Tuesday includes a proposal to defer or significantly reduce water consumption for new development. The proposal would apply to new developments seeking building permits.

City utilities staff is proposing several steps in response to the drought: limits on outdoor landscape watering; regulating the use of a nonpotable groundwater well at the city’s corporation yard; and re-establishing a toilet and washing-machine rebate program.

For more information, go to www.slowater.org.

What water use is banned in San Luis Obispo:

  • Using potable water to wash sidewalks and driveways.
  • Allowing runoff when irrigating with potable water.
  • Using hoses with no shutoff nozzles to wash cars.
  • Using potable water in decorative water features that don’t re-circulate the water.
  • Irrigating outdoors during and within 48 hours of measurable rainfall.
  • Irrigating ornamental turf on public street medians with potable water.
  • Irrigating with potable water outside of newly-built homes and buildings that are not delivered by drip or micro-spray.
  • Also, restaurants are prohibited from serving water to customers unless it's requested, and hotels and motels must offer the option to not have linen and towels laundered daily.

    Source: City of San Luis Obispo