Water restrictions on tap

Water supplies are drying up, and the Laguna Beach County Water District has floated a plan to keep city taps flowing without waste — or pay the price.

A handful of residents responded to a district invitation to attend a hearing Tuesday on a proposed ordinance that will affect every customer in Laguna — providing for conservation that ranges from voluntary reductions in water use to three levels of mandatory rationing and enforcement.

“The goal is to optimize efficiency even when there is no water shortage,” Assistant General Manager Christopher Regan said.

All of Laguna’s water is imported, and supplies depend on the Metropolitan Water District — sometimes called the Mighty Met — which controls both quantity and wholesale rate increases that are reflected in the rates charged by the district.


The quantity allocated to Laguna is decreasing — and the rates are increasing.

“Traditionally we have bought between 4,400 and 4,500 acre-feet of water annually from Metropolitan Water,” said Renae Hinchey. “This year we are being limited to 4,000 acre-feet.

“If we buy in excess of that, the cost per acre-foot of water goes up from $709 to $1,889. We have to find ways to reduce use voluntarily and by legal means, if necessary.”

Reduced water use will help offset an expected rate increase, made imperative by the 19.7% increase imposed on the district by Metropolitan, which will start July 1, Hinchey said.


“But this is not about money, it is about water,” Commissioner Debbie Neev said.

The proposed ordinance provides the district with the tools to respond directly to escalating shortages.

“As supplies dwindle, we can implement restrictions to get customers to cut back,” Regan said.

There will be different restrictions for commercial properties and construction, Regan said.

The proposed ordinance also allows the district to step up restrictions, if voluntary reductions are insufficient to offset shortages.

 “Water Alert:” a 15% to 30% reduction in water use

Yard watering will be allowed only three days a week. Leaks would have to be fixed in two days. Water allotments could be adjusted.

Restaurants would be obliged to serve water only on request. Hotels guests will be asked if they want their linens changed daily, a “no” would save laundering.


Both could be bumped up to the permanent mandates upon further commission review.

 “Water Warning:” a 30% to 50% reduction in water use

Pools will not be allowed to be filled or topped. Vehicles must be washed using a bucket, not a hose. And most stringent: the possible stoppage of new connections.

 “Water Emergency:” more than 50% reduction in water use

All outdoor watering would be prohibited — which would guarantee the required reduction because district studies show that about 50% of the water used in Laguna is for irrigation.

“We hope we don’t ever get to Level 3,” Regan said.

Violators could have their service discontinued, according to Regan. And under the proposed ordinance, fines and penalties could be imposed, which the district currently is not allowed to do.

“The idea is not to assess penalties, the idea is to fix the problem,” Regan said. “It gives us more teeth — if you waste water, you’ll be sorry.”


None of the residents who attended the meeting opposed an ordinance, but some took exception to the timed irrigation limits, which were designed to avoid runoff.

“I have landscaping for erosion control,” resident Lee Raymer said. “It needs deep watering. Ten minutes a day won’t cut it. One size does not fit all.”

The object of the time restriction is to water the plants, without flooding or polluting storm drains.

Watering on hillsides differs from watering on flat lots — although over time, both could use about the same amount of water.

Deep watering once a week on a flat lot could use less water than sprinkling 10 minutes a day, seven days a week. Deep watering encourages deep roots that are not as adversely affected during dry or hot spells.

“I have low-volume irrigation and zero runoff,” resident Bruce Waddington said. “Maybe that should be the standard, rather than time. I’d like to see you revisit that issue.”

The allowed minutes-per-sprinkler valve condition is required by Metropolitan Water, but Regan said that perhaps due to Laguna’s topography, some alternatives might be investigated.

Waddington also questioned a proposed restriction on filling recirculating fountains.

“Give me an allotment and let me manage it,” he said. “I’d like to see as much flexibility as possible for the property owners.”

North Laguna resident Don Knapp blamed the water shortages on “rampant development.”

“I bet Irvine is permitting meters for its project in Laguna Canyon,” Knapp said.

He also wondered if the city’s watering system is controlled by satellite, which it isn’t.

“But the city has improved its system,” Commission Chairman Bruce Scherer said.

Diamond Crestview resident Matt Lawson, who identified himself as a recovering “waterholic,” said the supply side must be addressed.

“Importing water is better than getting sand out of the tap,” said Lawson, chairman of the Design Review Task Force. “Maybe we could require more drought-tolerant plants.”

The district offices are fronted by a garden of native and drought tolerant vegetation, which serve as a model for Xeriscape designs.

Lawson also said the city might take a good look at permitting new swimming pools.

“It is hard to cut back when your neighbor is putting in a pool,” Lawson said.

Comments from the public will be considered.

A public workshop on the proposed ordinance is planned: time, date and location to be announced.

The ordinance must be approved by the district board of directors — the City Council wearing a different hat.

A copy of the proposed ordinance can be viewed at or picked up at the district’s headquarters at 306 Third St.


Among the recommended permanent mandatory restrictions:

 No sprinkler watering between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.

 Sprinklers limited to 10 minutes per valve

 No runoff, already a no-no according to water quality experts, and a restriction in the new Storm Water Permit proposed by the state Regional Water Quality Board-San Diego

 Leaks to be repaired within three days of notification from the district

 Limited hosing of hardscape

 All water features will be required to have re-circulating pumps

BARBARA DIAMOND can be reached at (949) 380-4321 or