Facing critical water supply conditions, a severe drought and with a long, dry summer looming, the San Luis Obispo City Council declared a local drought emergency Tuesday.
The council also unanimously approved a drought response strategy that includes a slew of tools to cut water use, including active enforcement of the city’s current water regulations.
“I support what’s being proposed as absolutely necessary,” Councilman John Ashbaugh said. “We need to do more, particularly in terms of assisting our residents and businesses to finance these improvements.”
The measures approved Tuesday are voluntary, but city utilities staff has said they'll return to the council this summer to propose mandatory rationing if water customers don't cut water use over the next few months.
The strategies approved Tuesday include the following:
- Limiting outdoor landscape watering to two days a week (watering is currently allowed three days a week);
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.
Under state water regulations, San Luis Obispo has to cut its use by 12 percent as compared to 2013.
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 that goal, mandatory measures could be put into place in stages to cut water use.
Information released Tuesday by state water regulators shows that San Luis Obispo dropped its water use by 12 percent in April compared to April 2013. Residents used an estimated 58.8 gallons of water per person per day in April.
Water use survey: See how other local communities conserved in April »
The drought emergency declaration allows 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.
Some of the council's discussion Tuesday centered on the city’s nonpotable water well at its corporation yard, which over the years has been used by local residents and businesses from outside the city for landscape irrigation or to water livestock.
Under the newly approved strategy, property owners within the San Luis Valley Groundwater Basin — which includes city residents and county residents just outside city limits — would be able to continue using the water for an annual fee.
That fee would be $50 for city residents and $350 for non-city residents who live within the basin boundaries.
“The well has proven invaluable this year for livestock and apple trees, berry vines and peach trees,” said Linda Zohns, who lives on O’Connor Way.
Councilman Dan Carpenter said he supported having well water available to city residents for landscaping, but wants the program managed so that people who haven’t been approved and paid a fee aren’t able to use the water.
“I think it’s a reasonable thing to do for our residents,” he said. “By using that water they’re not drawing it out of that system.”
San Luis Obispo resident Mila Vujovich-La Barre asked the council to consider a building moratorium until “Mother Nature ends the drought.”
“Residents are being asked to conserve and may face mandatory rationing and fines, but I think it's your responsibility now to halt all new development,” she said.
Ron Munds, the city’s utilities services manager, said staff has calculated the water usage of new developments in the pipeline over the next few years and believes they won’t have a harsh impact on San Luis Obispo’s water supply.
“With the information we have we haven’t recommended a building moratorium but with the caveat that could change,” he said.
Mayor Jan Marx said she hopes that people who might be tearing up their lawns are installing drip irrigation to continue watering their trees, so the city doesn’t lose its urban forest.
“These trees are long-term investments,” she said.
The California State Water Quality Control Board surveyed 400 urban water suppliers statewide to determine how communities responded in advance of mandatory conservation requirements that started June 1.
The survey compared water use in April 2015 to April 2013.
Seven water suppliers in San Luis Obispo County were surveyed. Water agencies with fewer than 3,000 connections, such as suppliers in Los Osos and other unincorporated communities, were not surveyed but must reduce water use by 25 percent.
|Community||Change in water use |
from April 2013
|Estimated water use per resident |
per day in April 2015
|Atascadero Mutual Water Co.||-10%||91 gallons|
|City of Arroyo Grande||-22%||106.2 gallons|
|Cambria CSD||-35%||45 gallons|
|Morro Bay||+2%||62.8 gallons|
|Nipomo CSD||-20%||131.3 gallons|
|City of Paso Robles||-19%||103.8 gallons|
|City of San Luis Obispo||-12%||58.8 gallons|