SOUTH COUNTY : Residents Using Less Water, Officials Say

While recent rains may have done little to ease the drought, water officials say South County communities will profit simply because less water is being used for irrigation.

"It's hard to measure (the benefit of the storms), but irrigation consumes almost 50% of the water supply," said Jack Foley, general manager of the Moulton Niguel Water District, which serves about 120,000 people in Dana Point, Laguna Hills, Laguna Niguel, Aliso Viejo and Mission Viejo. "If you make an inroad into the irrigation (use), you're really saving."

But Bill Knitz, general manager of the Santa Margarita Water District, which serves parts of Mission Viejo, Coto de Caza and Rancho Santa Margarita, said recent rains have had virtually no impact on the drought, which has hit South County communities particularly hard because of the dearth of ground water.

"We didn't get enough to do anything for us in our San Juan Creek ground-water basin," Knitz said. "We need a few more (storms)."

Meantime, water officials say conservation measures are making a difference now that many South County communities have cut water use by at least 20%.

"Our district is doing quite well," said Mike Dunbar, assistant general manager of the South Coast Water District, which serves parts of Laguna Beach and Dana Point. "We've been conserving from 25% to 35% over the summer."

Mary Barbas, treasurer of the Coastal Municipal Water District, one of two Orange County water wholesalers, said the six municipal water districts served by Coastal Municipal have also cut back on their water use.

"They've done wonderfully," she said. "They've met their targets all along."

Still, long-term drought relief is not on the horizon, officials say.

"State water project reservoirs are still way below normal," Foley said. "It's going to take time. It's going to take a lot more snowpacks to really get us out of the woods on this."

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