By James Vanderbilt
Many thought we were out of drought status after California received 131 percent of average rainfall during our last rain year (Oct. 2016 through Sept. 2017). Unfortunately, after a fairly dry opening of Southern California’s rainy season that started Dec. 2017 and even after a series of surprise storms in March, April, and May 2018, rain amounts are 30-50 percent of normal. Ouch.
The Orange County Groundwater Basin fared much better, for reasons we will get to later, and it is currently 46 percent filled. Our major source of imported water, Lake Oroville, is at 66 percent capacity. This latter piece of information could put a damper on the amount we can receive.
Severe and Extreme drought status has been expanded for the state. All of Orange County is experiencing a severe drought. Conditions have deteriorated rapidly across the region and will likely get worse, according to the United States Drought Monitor.
Water use climbed once the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) declared the drought was over last year and lifted water-use restrictions, except for washing down pavement, using hoses without shut-off valves and a few other limitations.
This California drought map shows areas experiencing more severe drought in darker colors.
Members of the SWRCB were to have voted in February to make water restriction mandates permanent, but it delayed its decision after officials from irrigation and water agencies made some good points. The term “waste or unreasonable use” of water was ambiguous, the mandates were too rigid and inflexible in a state with different regions and needs, and by making the temporary water bans permanent, this could be the first step in weakening historic protection of water rights for landowners.
We are dealing with a two-headed snake. We cannot continue to allow people to waste water when we know we have cyclical droughts in California. But, under the proposed law, there is no leniency when there is no water emergency.
Orange County Water District (OCWD) relies on the Groundwater Replenishment System (GWRS), the world’s largest advanced water purification system for indirect potable reuse. The GWRS produces 103,000 acre-feet per year of recycled water, which is enough water for 850,000 people, is a drought-proof water supply, and offsets water imported from the State Water Project. Supplies are sustainable, and OCWD’s service area was able to maintain its 75 percent groundwater pumping allotment, event during our severe five-year drought.
Recycled water is the ultimate form of conservation as each drop is used more than once and should be recognized and incentivized for future project development and the expansion of existing projects.
Currently, local entities must comply with the Model Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance (MWELO) or their equally effective local landscape ordinances regarding new landscapes and irrigation standards. With the MWELO in place, recycled water will not be used in a wasteful or unreasonable way and local entities will ensure recycled water and irrigation methods are properly applied.
OCWD encourages recycled water project development and expansion, while fully utilizing current landscape ordinances and it informed the Water Board of its concerns and justifications. At this writing, the final laws have not been put in place. See the most up to date regulations at the State Water Resources Control Board site under the title “Regulation on the Waste and Unreasonable Water Uses.”
James Vanderbilt is a council member of the City of Anaheim and represents Division 9 of the Orange County Water District. For more information about the District, visit www.cwd.com. Contact Director Vanderbilt at firstname.lastname@example.org.