The Governor’s recent drought declaration highlights the importance of conservation efforts
By John Taylor, San Juan Capistrano City Councilman
Water is a precious commodity in California.
The recent news of a statewide drought proclamation should come as no surprise. Last year was the driest in California history and rain forecasts for 2014 are also looking bleak, prompting Gov. Jerry Brown to call this a “mega drought.”
Californians are no strangers to water shortages, but with ever-increasing demands on our already strained water supply, we need to brace ourselves for rising numbers of intense droughts in our future.
While we can’t control the weather, there is much we can do at the city level to prepare for droughts and other disasters (such as earthquakes) that threaten our water supply. Updated emergency plans and strong conservation efforts are critical. In addition, water agencies have stressed that cities should not be completely dependent on imported water, as the delta is vulnerable to earthquakes, flooding and salt water contamination.
San Juan Capistrano is fortunate to have its own independent water supply through our Groundwater Recovery Plant. The previous City Council had the foresight to build this plant 10 years ago to ensure that our city would have its own water supply.
The GWRP had initial issues that slowed production and increased costs, but these have been resolved and it is now producing 50 percent of the water for our city.
Some say that the cost of imported water is cheaper than producing our own. While that may have been true initially, GWRP costs have gone down and Metropolitan Water District rates have gone up more than 63 percent since 2007 with additional increases expected every year. We can’t afford to keep paying a premium for imported water and leave ourselves vulnerable to a water shortage, too.
Citywide conservation efforts are another vital component to protect our water supply. Since 1992, San Juan Capistrano has used a tiered rate structure that rewards prudent water users with the lowest rates and charges more to those who exceed their allocation. In Orange County, 73 percent of water suppliers used a tiered rate structure, and it has been a successful tool in encouraging conservation.
A recent lawsuit challenged this tiered rate structure. The judge ruled against the tiered rates, defying all previous court decisions on this issue. As there is no precedent for this ruling, the city is appealing the court’s decision in order to protect the taxpayers from being hit with a bill for $422,000 from the plaintiffs while the judge considers new information.
On a personal level, I am open to looking at all of the ways we can lower our costs for water—including single rate versus a tiered rate, which is now being studied and will be discussed at the next water forum on Feb. 11.
Each and every one of us needs to do our part to prevent a water shortage. Conserve water by lowering your personal usage, take advantage of utility rebates and replace your old water-guzzling toilets and appliances. Don’t overwater your yard, or better still, create a beautiful landscape with native, drought-tolerant plants.
Living in a desert climate, droughts are (and most likely always will be) a fact of life in Southern California. With the city’s proactive strategies, such as our investment in the GWRP, combined with residents’ conservation efforts, we will be prepared for a greener future.
P.S. We need your input on these very important issues. Please come to the water forum on Feb. 11 at the Community Center.