Newport moves toward allowing a third day of watering per week

Newport Beach water customers soon may be allowed to irrigate outdoors three days a week instead of two, but still will be required to conserve.

The City Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to take initial steps to move the city to Level 2 of its water conservation plan, which restricts outdoor watering to before 9 a.m. or after 5 p.m. but allows ratepayers to irrigate their lawns three days per week from April through October. Outdoor watering from November through March would be restricted to one day per week.

The city is expected to assign residents specific watering days, and customers will be expected to cut their monthly water use by 15% compared with the same months in 2013, according to city staff.

"The drought is still here," said Municipal Operations Director George Murdoch. "We think the prudent thing to do is to continue to conserve until there's a change in the conditions."

Before the change in watering days can go into effect, the council must vote for it a second time, probably at its July 12 meeting.

For the past year the city has operated at Level 3 of its water conservation plan, which restricts outdoor watering to two days per week from April through October. It also requires households and businesses to fix water leaks within 24 hours and reduce their overall use by 25% compared with 2013.

The council's decision Tuesday came on the heels of the State Water Resources Control Board's vote in May mandating that – assuming three more dry years – urban water providers have a three-year supply of water available. Agencies can set their own conservation standards if needed to meet that mark.

Previously, the state had set specific conservation targets for local water agencies.

"Drought conditions are far from over but have improved enough that we can step back from our unprecedented top-down target setting," state water board Chairwoman Felicia Marcus said in a statement.

Newport Beach, like many other Orange County water providers, would have enough water available under the state standard to set its conservation level at zero, Murdoch said.

But because an emergency could deplete water reservoirs, the Municipal Water District of Orange County has asked all suppliers to set a minimum 10% conservation rate.

Murdoch proposed 15% for Newport Beach.

The city, which serves 66,219 water customers, had struggled month after month to reduce its water use to meet its original 28% conservation target. The state agreed to lower Newport's mandate to 21% earlier this year.

The city's overall water usage in May was 27.3% lower than in the same month in 2013, putting its cumulative reduction at 22%, data show.

The city also is expected to cut back on citations for those who use more water than their allotted amount.

"We will be contacting people who are off the chart, but the majority of the community has done well," Murdoch said. "There could still be citations, but it's not as likely."