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Santa Monica City to Maintain Cuts in Water Use Despite Recent Storms  

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By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

February 1, 2017 -- Water-logged by recent storms but still not drought-free, the City of Santa Monica announced Tuesday it is maintaining the big cuts in water use, and fines, it imposed in 2015 as California entered its fourth year of drought.

Although the winter storms lifted much of Northern California out of the drought, Southern California, drier to begin with, did not rebound to the same extent, officials say. It is officially still considered to be in a drought.

The rain was a welcome relief, the City said in a statement, “but Santa Monica’s groundwater, our major supply of water, has been impacted and can take years to rebound.

“Due to the long-term effects of drought, the City of Santa Monica will maintain its current drought restrictions including water use allowances and penalties for exceeding allowances.”

The City imports about 30 percent of its total water supply from the Metropolitan Water District, whose sources are the Colorado River and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Groundwater supplies the remainder.

Santa Monica has set a goal of becoming completely water independent by 2020.

“At this point we are not recommending backing off of the drought regulations because we are only about half way through the wet season,” said Dean Kubani, the City’s chief sustainability officer and assistant director of public works.

“If the storms stop coming we could still be in deficit by summer,” he said.

Santa Monica receives an average of about 11.3 inches of rain per year. That dropped to just 0.96 inches in 2011. But 2012 was worse still, with only 0.82 inches of precipitation.

Kubani noted that the U.S. Drought Monitor still shows the region as being in severe drought. The recent storms filled Northern California's major suppliers of water -- rivers, lakes and reservoirs -- with rain.

But Southern California gets water from groundwater aquifers, “which are much slower to recharge after a drought than surface water supplies,” Kubani said.

“Due to climate change, the long term prognosis is for longer and deeper droughts in California, so it is prudent to conserve even during the wet periods because there is no guarantee that these weather patterns will continue,” he said.

The City will reassess its decision to stick with cuts “if we do see a much wetter than normal rainy season continuing throughout the winter and into the spring, and if the U.S. Drought Monitor indicates that the drought has abated in southern California," Kubani said.

Susan Cline, the City’s public works director, said that in the last two years, water customers cut use 82 days, giving Santa Monica the ability meet its water needs using only groundwater.

As it now stands, 74 percent of the City’s water customers use less than their water allowance each month, down from a high of 80 percent compliance in February 2016, she said.

Still, more than 600 customers have received penalties, Cline said. The majority opted for an in-person water use consultation and the fee was waived.

The City has distributed more than 15,000 water-saving products and rebates since the drought response started in 2015, she added ("Council Approves Santa Monica Water-Use Reductions," January 15, 2015).

Santa Monica imposes a penalty of up to $1,000 for water wasters who commit their third violation ("Fines Start in Santa Monica for Customers Using Too Much Water," March 1, 2016).

As part of the program, watering lawns or landscapes is restricted to 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. on any day exception for drip irrigation, maintenance and hand watering. Runoff is forbidden, as is hosing down “hardscapes” liked driveways, patios and sidewalks.

The list of violations also includes filling or maintaining water levels in decorative fountains, ponds, lakes or displays without a recycling system; filling or emptying existing pools except to repair a leak, and washing vehicles of any kind “except with a hand-held bucket or a hose equipped with a shut-off nozzle,” the City said.

Restaurants can serve water only upon request.

Governor Jerry Brown ordered the state’s first ever mandatory cuts in water in 2015, and Santa Monica has beaten its target of cutting use by 20 percent several times.

Although state-mandated cuts ended June 1, the City reported saving 21.6 percent in November, according to the State Water Resources Control Board. Statewide, residential users saved 18.8 percent.

Since required conservation started in June 2015, Californians have saved 2.35 million acre-feet of water, or 765 billion gallons -- the equivalent of a year’s supply of water for an estimated 11 million people.

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