Search for Water Continues

Montecito Water District (MWD) is continuing an aggressive public outreach program to promote water conservation. These “On the Water Front” articles in Montecito Journal, customer newsletters, mailers, and public meetings are some of the ways we have kept the community informed about the serious water supply problems facing this community.

We are not alone. Statewide water supply and drought news mirrors the District’s water shortage situation. All of today’s conditions point to the need for conservation. The question for this column is, “Is the community responding and reducing water use?” Unfortunately, to date the answer is “No.”

Customer Water Usage – Where We Stand

The July customer meter usage reports just came in, and the District sold 798 acre-feet. This is the highest July customer usage level on record. Moreover, the trend in increasing customer water demand is up. Customer usage in the months of March, April, and June 2008 also recorded the highest water usage for these months, with May usage of 693 acre-feet only 9 acre-feet less than last year’s May record.

June 30 marked the end of the 2007/08 fiscal year. Total water sales were recorded at 6,518 acre-feet, which was higher than the 06/07 record year of 6,333 acre-feet. Note that the rainfall for 2006-07 was only 7 inches, one of the lowest rain years on record, making high water use understandable. But in the 2007/08 fiscal year we received over 20 inches, more than our normal average. Notwithstanding, water use this past year rose to a record.

A review of customer usage over the last two years indicates there is a “hardened demand” inherent in the structure of the landscapes and irrigation systems in the District. This means that unless changes are made to our outdoor water use through more water-efficient landscaping and more efficient irrigation systems, the high customer water use will continue. The effect can be extremely serious.

District Water Supply Update

As of two weeks ago, the District’s water supply for the remainder of this calendar year showed a deficit of over 600 acre-feet. A water supply deficit means that we enter the new calendar year with a water supply that will not meet customer water demand. In addition, the estimated 2009 State Water entitlement set by the state Department of Water Resources will be only 10% of our 3,300 acre-foot entitlement, or just 330 acre-feet. Our other local water supplies are expected to be at normal levels, but not enough to meet current customer water usage. In order to meet the estimated water demand level for next year, without serious water conservation by our customers, the District will need to find and purchase over 1,500 acre-feet of supplemental water!

The Search for Supplemental State Water

The District was notified on July 30, 2008 that its search for supplemental State Water for 2008 appears to be successful. The Central Coast Water Authority, our State Water joint powers agency, informed us that 1,400 acre-feet from a State dry year water purchase program has been made available for the District. We paid for this water on Friday, August 1. If we obtain delivery (which looks likely), the District has averted declaring a water shortage emergency this time. Note that this water purchase was absolutely necessary, but unfortunately came at a premium price. It is a one-time purchase that may not be available next year. Reducing water use through conservation remains an urgent necessity.

How the Proposed New Rate Structure Helps

Because excessive water use is what necessitates the purchase of expensive supplemental supplies, the District’s Board of Directors will be considering a new “Conservation Rate Structure” whose primary purpose is to reduce customer water consumption. The proposed conservation rate structure will help pay for the increased cost of acquiring costly supplemental water, and also encourage water conservation to help bring down the excessive level of water use District-wide. The proposed rate increases will be greater for those who continue to use too high levels of water, and minimal for those who are able to reduce their water use or who already use very low quantities of water.

Public Comment and Protests

Two public meetings have already been held, allowing the Board of Directors to hear from concerned customers. All District customers have received a mailed notice of a public hearing to take place at 2 pm August 19 in the Montecito Fire District Board Room. At this time, the Board will take official protests, which must be in writing, and also hear and consider public comment. For those unable to attend the public hearing, there will be a further time for public comment at a public meeting at 6:30 pm the following evening, August 20, at El Montecito Presbyterian Church. Please note that any written protests must be received before the end of the hearing on August 19. The meeting on August 20 is for public comment, which will be heard and considered by the Board. All written comments or protests received after the August 19th meeting cannot be counted as an official protest under California law.

What Is the Future for Our Water Supply?

Unless the state receives substantial rainfall in the coming year and increases State Water allocations, the District will have no choice but to again look for more expensive supplemental State water. If supplemental water is not found, the District will have to take the more serious action of declaring a water shortage emergency. The ability of our water supply to meet future customer water usage is up to you. It is imperative that Montecito Water District customers reduce water use to avert drastic measures that will affect future water deliveries to their property.