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South O.C. water customers, missing targets, face tighter rules

Tens of thousands of southern O.C. water customers face tighter watering and car-washing rules

Water regulators in southern Orange County have tightened restrictions on potable water use to comply with Gov. Jerry Brown's order to reduce water use across California.

The South Coast Water District and Laguna Beach County Water District had set voluntary restrictions on outdoor water use before Brown issued the mandate. But General Manager Andrew Brunhart said that South Coast missed its targets and that more needed to be done in a district that serves 40,000 residents in South Laguna, Dana Point, San Clemente and San Juan Capistrano.

With the board's action, South Coast customers are allowed to use their sprinklers once a week through October, and leaks must be repaired in two days instead of three.

Residents also are not allowed to wash cars at home, even if they have a shut-off nozzle. They must visit commercial car washes, which recycle water.

Brown is requiring a statewide reduction in potable water use of 25% of 2013 levels by February.

The governor's mandate is "very timely and strongly supports water conservation," Brunhart said. "The water levels in the reservoirs are at critical low levels of supply."

South Coast imports 75% of its water from Northern California and the Colorado River. Groundwater and recycled water make up the remainder at 15% and 10%, respectively.

Laguna Beach County, on the other hand, met Brown's 20% goal two years ago and isn't proposing stricter rules, General Manager Renae Hinchey said.

The district, which serves 22,000 residents over 8 1/2 square miles, prohibits washing sidewalks and driveways and operating fountains that do not recirculate water. Laguna Beach County limits outdoor watering to before 8 a.m. or after 8 p.m. three days per week.

"We have measures already in place, so that is good news," Hinchey said.

The district imports 100% of its water.

Hinchey was concerned when she learned of the mandatory 25% cut, because she wasn't sure how much more would be asked of a district that has been so diligent in its conservation efforts.

"We cut back so much already and have efficiency programs in place," Hinchey said. "Then the State Water Resources Control Board clarified that it would look at the process and consider lowering targets for water conservation. That was a relief. We have done so well.

"When I started 15 years ago, we were purchasing 4,800 acre-feet of water per year. Now it's 3,600 acre-feet."

An acre-foot of water is equal to 325,000 gallons of water, enough to supply three households a year, Brunhart said.

South Coast purchases 5,900 acre-feet of water per year, but it serves more customers than Laguna Beach County does.

The city has also been proactive in saving water. In the last month, crews removed 35,000 square feet of grass from the Laguna Canyon Road median and have taken additional steps in the last several years to curb water use.

Workers installed waterless urinals in most city facilities and parks, added drip irrigation systems in landscaped areas, reduced tennis-court washing to once per month and adjusted toilets to use 2 gallons less per flush, according to a news release.

The Ranch at Laguna Beach was also ahead of Brown's order regarding water use.

In January, the resort began using 100% recycled water on its nine-hole golf course and hotel landscaping, General Manager Kurt Bjorkman said. South Coast provides the Ranch with reclaimed water.

Brown's order "makes us feel better about the investment we made to switch to reclaimed water," Bjorkman said.

Both South Coast and Laguna Beach County offer rebate and incentive programs to customers who reduce water consumption.

For example, Laguna Beach County is offering customers a $3 rebate for each square foot of grass they replace with water-efficient landscaping or artificial turf.

bryce.alderton@latimes.com

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