Water districts ask customers for voluntary reductions

As California grapples with a drought, Laguna Beach's two water districts are urging customers to be cautious and conserve water, much like they were doing even before the current parched conditions.

Laguna Beach County Water District staff is considering asking customers to voluntarily trim water use by 20%, which would align with Gov. Jerry Brown's January call to reduce water consumption, said Christopher Regan, assistant general manager.

Even though "our customers have cut usage quite a bit in the past few years," Regan said. "we're basically keeping up the good work."

The average customer in the county district's service area, which spans 8.5 miles of Laguna Beach, Crystal Cove State Park and unincorporated Emerald Bay, uses 161 gallons per day, a decrease from 190 gallons five years ago, Regan said.

The average customer in the South Coast Water District service area, which covers portions of south Laguna, uses 170 gallons per day, a decrease from 181 gallons five years ago, district spokeswoman Linda Homscheid wrote in an email.

South Coast also had programs in place to limit water usage before the current dry conditions.

Since 2009, the district has mandated certain days when customers can use their sprinklers.

For example, residents west of Golden Lantern Street, which includes portions of South Laguna, may turn on sprinklers from 5 p.m. to 9 a.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, according to the district website.

An area east of the street that includes parts of Dana Point may turn on sprinklers during the same hours Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays.

The district issues a written notice for a first violation and may fine a person $100 for a second offense, Homscheid said.

"Our aim is to provide public education about designated watering days and thereby gain compliance from our customers," she said.

Water district officials urge customers to use a hose with an automatic shutoff nozzle, which can save 15 to 20 gallons per minute. Watering plants between 5 p.m. and 9 a.m. can save 20 to 25 gallons a day by avoiding times when evaporation and wind are greatest, they say.

Collaboration between agencies is crucial to supplying water to customers, knowing dry times will come, Regan said.

Laguna Beach County Water District, a member agency of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, receives all of its water from the Colorado River and Northern California.

About 75% of South Coast's water comes from these two sources. The rest comes from the San Juan Groundwater Basin (15%) and from recycled water for irrigation (about 10%).

Laguna Beach County can store 33 1/2 million gallons among 22 reservoirs but needs a safety net closer to home if the feeders run low, Regan said.

"If we were to get cut off from Northern California or the Colorado River, we have to have some water stored in Southern California so we can last longer," he said.

The Diamond Valley Lake in Hemet would fit that need.

The lake holds enough water to meet Southern California's emergency and drought needs for six months and is an important component in [the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California's] plan to provide a reliable supply of water to the 18 million people in [the region], the agency's website said.

"Droughts are cyclical, but they're becoming more and more frequent," Regan said. "The question to ask is, 'How can we help each other?' What additional sources can we tap into to supplement our imported supply?"

Answering the water supply concerns isn't as simple as building more reservoirs, Regan said.

"Water moves through our system," Regan said. "We can't have 10 tanks holding [an additional 15 gallons]. We can't flush that much water through our system. It would be a huge water quality problem."

Both Laguna Beach County and South Coast water districts offer rebates to customers and water-conservation information on their websites.

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