City officials have announced a set of new water conservation program measures for San Diego in response to Gov. Jerry Brown’s mandatory 25 percent reduction in water use for the state.
Mayor Kevin Faulconer announced the actions at a press conference Wednesday, saying that San Diegans will have to "cut water use like never before."
“San Diego needs to consider multiple solutions to reduce our water usage and ensure a lasting water supply; no one solution is the answer,” Council President Lightner said at the press conferece. “Water is too important to our economy and quality of life to not pursue all options to secure an affordable and reliable water supply in the face of this continuing drought.”
The city plans to implement stricter enforcement of water waste regulations, reduce outdoor irrigation at parks, and restart the Turf Replacement Rebate program. In addition, they plant to stop using potable water to irrigate turf landscaped medians throughout the city.
San Diego water enforcement officials will be more active when driving through the streets and looking for water wasters. Previously, reported water wasters would face three strikes before a fine. Now, there will be two formal warning strikes before a fine.
The city will also take steps to review options to reduce irrigation at the parks around the city. The Parks and Recreation Department is one of the largest water users, Faulconer said, and residents will "very likely" see brown lawns and parks as the city buckles down.
"We will focus on keeping our playfields and turf we have so many leagues and others that participate on that but there’s no doubt when you look at the city’s water use as an organization, one of the largest is our parks and rec department," Faulconer said.
The Turf Replacement Rebate program, which provides incentives for residents looking to replace their turf with drought tolerant landscapes, will be starting up again as well, Faulconer said. He plans to propose a quarter of a million dollars for the program in his upcoming proposed budget he said. In the past, the program has been so popular it ran out of funding.
The budget for rebates has been nearly doubled from $250,000, officials said. That money, said Craig Gustfason, let them give rebates to 246 residents and more than 333,000 square feet of grass replaced. The budget allocation has run out for this fiscal year, officials said, and they plan on adding another $200,000 for residents during this fiscal year to cope with demand.
The state is set to hand down specific target amount of water reduction for the city in four weeks time, Faulconer said. At that time, they will have a better idea of specific measures that will need to be taken to meet reduction goals.
The city has had mandatory water use restrictions in effect since the start of November, including a 48 hour rule where residents cannot irrigate after "measurable rainfall," assigned watering times by street numbers and a rule saying residents must repair leaks immediately.
Halla Razak, Director of the Public Utilities Department, said in the past the department has focused on education and gave people three warnings before fining them. Now, she said, they plan to be "more active out there" when driving the streets for enforcement purposes. The city is evaluating whether the department needs more people for enforcement.
"Absolutely, we’re doing everything that we can on our end for any leaks that are out there of course sometimes there are main breaks that are outside of our control, but as you know we have a very robust replacement system to try to update the system so that it works properly," said Razak.
Since November 1, when the city decided to implement fines for water wasters, they have received 990 complaints that a resident is wasting water in some way. Of those complaints, 20 percent did not fix the issue on the first warning and 80 percent did. Faulconer said the city has not issued any fines to date.
Lightner, City Councilmember Lorie Zapf and Razak all attended the announcement. Of the three elected officials there, only Zapf had put in place drought tolerate landscaping, they said.
The move comes as, for the first time in state history, cities and towns across California will have to cut their water use by 25 percent, a goal set by Gov. Jerry Brown during the drought's fourth consecutive year. City water officials previously said they did not know how they would adjust to the unprecedented water reductions.
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