The New Water Limitation Ordinance

On April 15th, the Montecito Water District Board of Directors adopted a Water Limitation Ordinance that underscores the District’s commitment to reduce customers’ water usage to a sustainable level, and to bring water supply and water demand into balance.

The Ordinance sets firm limits on the amount of water the District will provide to new development or to changes in existing development. The Ordinance was in lieu of the more drastic alternative: restrictions on all new future water service connections.

Declaring a Water Supply Emergency

The emergency is based on the fact that customers have been using more water than the District can reliably provide. In 2007, total demand for water exceeded the District’s reliable water supply by about 600 acre-feet, or about 200 million gallons!

This over-consumption continues today. Following abundant rains in February 2008, instead of a reduction in demand, water consumption rose the following month to a record high. Clearly, action needed to be taken to curb demand.

Looking to the future, adding water use by new development will make the ongoing water supply shortfall even worse due to subdivision of large parcels into smaller ones, construction of new residences with extensive landscaping, and redevelopment of commercial properties into new expanded uses.

The Water Limitation Ordinance will help control future water demand to ensure there will continue to be a reliable long-term water supply for all our customers.

More Water Is Hard to Get

Montecito Water District is not alone in confronting water shortages. The State is suffering serious water supply challenges: a years-long drought in the Colorado River basin, a limited use of the snowpack in the Sierras, and growing environmental water demands. A crowning blow came last summer when a Federal judge ordered a roughly one-third cut in State Water Project supplies that serve us. More recently, the Court took additional actions that threaten imported supplies even further.

The market for supplemental water supplies is extremely competitive and expensive. After investing significant efforts in a statewide search for new water sources and finding little, the District felt compelled to take firm action.

How the Water Limitation Ordinance Works

The Ordinance establishes water allocations for new development or expansion of water service to existing developed properties. Here are the highlights:

• Each parcel of one acre or more of new development is entitled to a maximum base allotment of one acre-foot (325,851 gallons) of water per year. Smaller parcels will receive a pro rata portion of water.

• For parcels seeking an expansion of their current water service, a three-year history of water usage will be calculated. The parcel will be entitled to either that amount, or the one acre-foot calculation, whichever is greater.

• The Ordinance applies to projects within the District that require a City or County permit. Conformity to the Ordinance will be required before a Certificate of Water Service Availability will be issued.

• Property owners are committed to living within their allocation or face possible penalties.

• As an Emergency Action, the Ordinance took effect immediately.

Additional Conservation Action Plans

The District is thus putting in place, a step-by-step action plan that gives the District the ability to forecast and control future water demand.

The first step was the water-awareness campaign currently in progress that encourages reduced water consumption. Newsletters, public talks, bill stuffers, and articles in the local press tell this story. The District also offers a water conservation specialist who will come to homes or businesses at no cost, providing professional advice—in English and Spanish—about reducing water usage and saving money.

Other steps to be taken in the near future include a water conservation rate structure change that charges higher rates for higher water usage. In addition the District’s Water Shortage Emergency Plan that is to be implemented in the event of drought is being revised. Of course, the District continues to seek new sources of water.

The Water Limitation Ordinance is an important step forward to assure a fair and reliable water resource to all the residents and businesses of the Montecito-Summerland-Toro Canyon communities.

If you have questions, or wish a complete copy of the Ordinance, call me at 969-2271 or email tom@montecitowater.com.