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Featured Image: Jesus Pelayo, the course superintendent at Shorecliffs Golf Club in San Clemente, waters a green back in 2015. Photo: File/Eric Heinz

By C. Jayden Smith

In accordance with local and statewide entities acting to combat a drought emergency, San Clemente City Council last week introduced an update to the city’s Water Conservation Ordinance (WCO) and adopted a resolution declaring a Water Shortage Level 2 Water Alert.

With the unanimous vote at the June 7 meeting, councilmembers also directed staff to expand the city’s public information campaign, implement surcharges on potable water, limit landscape irrigation around the city, and increase water waste patrols.

Under these new measures, San Clemente’s water customers can expect to see a monthly increase of about $4 to their bills, accounting for an additional variable rate surcharge of $0.30 per cubic centric foot and a fixed rate surcharge of $0.74 per meter equivalent.

The ordinance, which looks to repeal and replace the current WCO, is intended to achieve consistency with the 2020 Water Shortage Contingency Plan the council adopted in June 2021, and to include additional permanent water waste restrictions adopted in January by the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB), according to Water Conservation analyst Niki Beach.

Following Gov. Gavin Newsom’s statewide drought emergency declaration last October, and the SWRCB adopting emergency conservation regulations on May 24, San Clemente was required to implement demand-reduction actions. However, the city’s report did not identify a potential shortage in Fiscal Year 2022-2023.

The potential changes to the WCO would shorten the irrigation period, limiting the time residents could water their yards, from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m., and would prohibit watering within 48 hours of measurable rain. If passed, it would also require home and property owners to repair water leaks within five calendar days, regardless of shortage conditions, and bar watering on turf on medians with potable water, among others.  

“(The changes) do mostly revolve around those permanent water waste restrictions that are valid year-round regardless of shortage level,” Beach said during her presentation to the council. “Some of them are just to be more consistent with other local water agencies.”

Adjusting the timeframe for repairing leaks was meant to help water customers, as they previously only had 72 hours to do repairs.

According to the staff report, the city expects these actions, including a public information campaign, to contribute in various ways to reducing the water shortage. The rate modifications, which could do the most to reduce the shortage, are intended to offset revenue and incentivize conservation.

Those at even-numbered residential addresses must irrigate on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from March through November and on Mondays in the winter. Those residing on odd-number addresses, they must irrigate on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, and Saturdays in the winter.

As for commercial and irrigation accounts, they’ll irrigate on Sundays, Tuesdays, and Fridays, and on Thursdays in the winter.

“Our customers may remember these days from the last drought when we last were in the Level 2 Water Alert,” said Beach. “We kept them the same to keep it consistent for our customers and also because they did such a great job during the last drought, helping us cut back by really honing in on their irrigation and using an appropriate amount of water throughout the week.”

When asked by Mayor Gene James to clarify the number of days San Clemente would have enough water to survive in case the city was cut off because of a natural disaster or similar event, Dave Rebensdorf, utilities director, answered with roughly 23 at the current rate of consumption.

“If our customers are reducing their water rate use then that’s extended out, but in the summertime, our customers are going to be using more water than they would under just an average scenario,” said Rebensdorf.

Customers are advised to limit landscape irrigation however possible, but Beach also confirmed that the Municipal Water District of Orange County’s turf removal program is ongoing.

Regarding water options, Rebensdorf said the city has an “aggressive program,” given that more than 50% of customer demand on irrigation comes from recycled water, and that the utilities department is looking to expand. An additional 10% of customers could be converted to recycled water soon.

City staff will also research the possibility of joining the South Coast Water District in developing a desalination plant near Doheny State Beach through a feasibility study and other methods.

Positives the Doheny plant would potentially present in comparison to the Carlsbad Desalination Plant, according to Rebensdorf, include a more environmental process and lower cost of water.

The city’s efforts to reduce water usage will not apply to non-customers, however.

“The customers that live within South Coast Water District and Santa Margarita Water District service areas, they will follow whatever requirements are in level to those water districts,” said Rebensdorf.

City Manager Erik Sund said the city will soon include flyers in water bills going forward to notify customers of the changes.

The ordinance will next move to a second reading for formal adoption, likely to occur at the council’s June 21 meeting.

C. Jayden Smith

C. Jayden Smith graduated from Dana Hills High in 2018 before pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in digital and broadcast journalism from the University of North Texas. After graduating in December 2020, he reported for the Salina Journal in Salina, Kansas. Jayden loves college football and bothering his black lab named Shadow.

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