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By Chris Frost
Tri County Sentry
Oxnard-- The Public Works & Transportation Committee, Tuesday, October 27, received a report on the current drought conditions and forwarded it to the City Council with feedback. They recommended that it create an ordinance amending the city's four water shortage stages in the city's existing ordinance to six water shortage stages.
The move to six stages matches the state's movement to six stages.
The city is also crafting enforcement efforts to make sure residents conserve water and are held accountable.
Water Conservation and Outreach Supervisor Megan Schneider presented the item to the committee and said much of the Western United States is experiencing drought and dry conditions.
According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, 83.7 percent of the Western United States falls into the severe drought category.
"Many of the major reservoirs are below or much below normal," she said. "As of August 24, 2021, major reservoir, Lake Orville, is at 27 percent capacity, which is near a record low."
She said the governor declared a drought state of emergency in Mendocino and Sonoma counties on April 21, 2021. It has been expanded to 51 of the 58 California counties.
"Counties not included under the proclamation are San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Bernadino, Riverside, Orange, San Diego, and Imperial," she said. "Although not included under a drought emergency, funds for water projects are still available to all counties."
She said the governor is calling on Californians to reduce water usage by 15 percent compared to 2020 levels. He has not ruled out an order mandating conservation.
"Many cities in Northern California, such as Folsom, Fort Bragg, and Roseville, are tackling the shortage by entering a higher water shortage stage and implementing new water restrictions and enforcement," she said. "In the Southern California region, the Metropolitan Water District (Met) declared a water supply alert. They are calling for all water agencies to voluntarily reduce their demand by 15 percent by conservation and public awareness campaigns, which is in line with the governor's call to action."
She said if conditions worsen, the Met can declare a water supply allocation alert and impose financial penalties.
"Here in Ventura County, the Calleguas Municipal Water District activated their water shortage contingency plan and adopted a stage 2 water shortage on August 18, 2021," Schneider said. "Calleguas has stated that water supply will not be impacted in 2021; however, if extreme dry conditions persist in 2022, the state may only allow potable water use for health and safety needs. So no outdoor water use."
Oxnard's current water portfolio has 25-30 percent is local groundwater pumped and purchased from the United Water Conservation District, and 25 percent is local groundwater pumped by the city.
"The city imports 40-50 percent of its water from the Calleguas Municipal Water District," she said. "The available groundwater supply is controlled by Fox Canyon Groundwater Management Agency (GMA). The GMA manages the groundwater basin by controlling groundwater pumping allocations in an effort to protect the basin and reduce groundwater pumping to a safe yield. Therefore, the amount of groundwater that can be pumped by the city and United is limited."
She said the Oxnard Water Division has been in contact with nearby water suppliers to stay up-to-date on actions taken locally.
"The City of Camarillo is considering declaring a level two water shortage, which would limit their watering outdoors to three days per week, prohibit the filling of ornamental lakes, and require leaks to be fixed within 48 hours," she said. "The City of Ventura is not currently in a water shortage stage but continues to actively prohibit water waste activities and enforce their current water conservation restrictions, such as no washing or hosing down driveways and sidewalks, and no watering within 48 hours of rainfall."
Simi Valley declared a level two water shortage recently and limited outdoor watering to three days per week.
"The city has permanent water waste restrictions which fall under Oxnard city code chapter 22 article eight, water waste," she said. "These permanent restrictions include prohibited activities such as outdoor irrigation during a rain event and the use of running water from a hose pipe or faucet to clean hard surfaces. All leaks must be reported within 72 hours of discovery."
All service of drinking water at a restaurant or foodservice establishment can only be made upon customer request.
"All food preparation establishments must use water-conserving dishwash spray valves when washing dishes," Schneider said.
The City of Oxnard has been in a declared stage two water shortage since 2014, which includes a twice-a-week watering schedule with the days determined by address number.
"Watering should only take place between 4 p.m. until 9 a.m. standard time or 6 p.m. until 9 a.m. during daylight savings," she said. "Exceptions include the watering of newly installed drought-tolerant landscapes up to a year after planting and the hand watering of potted plants or stressed vegetation. Additional restrictions included under Oxnard's stage two water shortage include no watering with 48 hours of a rain event, and no potable water used for decorative water features unless utilizing a circulating system."
She said permanent water waste restrictions are still in place, regardless of the stage.
"Oxnard's overall water demand has continued to decline since the adoption of the stage two water shortage from 26,703 acre-feet in the fiscal year 2013-2014 to 21,847 acre-feet in the fiscal year 2019-2020," she said.
The Oxnard Water Division implemented programs and campaigns to promote water conservation, including the Blue Box Program.
"All water field staff carry a blue box in their vehicles containing water-saving devices and program information, such as rebate flyers to offer customers," she said. "The curbside contactless water conservation program was launched in 2020 in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. This program offers customers a customizable water conservation kit they can pick up safely with no contact from our water campus. In 2020, 166 kits were distributed. This month, in October 2021, we are on target to distribute over 900 kits."
She said water-saving classes and schools assemblies educating kids also get offered.
"The 2020 Urban Water Management Plan details long-term resource planning to ensure adequate water supplies, and the 2020 water shortage contingency plan outlines response to the various stages of drought or prolonged water shortage caused by other events," she said. "Both the Urban Water Management Plan and Water Shortage Contingency Plan recently went to the committee on September 28 and to council for adoption."
Schneider said the city council could declare a water shortage and establish conservation measures in line with the declared shortage.
"The severity of the shortage is designated in stages, and each stage responds to the degree to which the city has or is likely to suffer the reduced availability of water supplies," she said.
The staff is exploring studies for the future use of desalination, water banking, stormwater capture, and treatment.
"The city may issue warnings and impose penalties on any violation of the prohibited water waste activities," she said. "Any change in the ordinance or any projects such as building storage tanks for conservation efforts will require council authority."
Water Division Manager Omar Castro said on October 25; the Calleguas Municipal Water District was notified that Met is planning to bring forward a resolution to its board at the November 9 meeting for all agencies to implement mandatory conservation measures.
"What prompted this is that the department reviewed a possible zero percent state water allocation," he said. "What that means for us is that there's a baseline delivery that we get from state water and the Department of Water Resources operates from zero to 15 percent, which is supplemental water that they provide in addition to the baseline. Should that zero percent state water allocation be implemented, that would reduce Metropolitan's flexibility to provide resources. As a conservation measure to meet that potential cutback, Metropolitan may mandate a zero outdoor watering restriction. Should that take place, staff will come back to the city council with a resolution to recommend the appropriate drought stage and conservation measures. We won't know that information until about April or May 2022 after we're done with our rainfall cycle as well as the snow."
Committee Member Mayor John Zaragoza asked Castro to explain zero base and if no watering outdoors means no watering lawns.
"That's correct," Castro said. "There's a baseline of water that we would get, and that baseline water is really for public health and safety. The additional increases in water resources allow all these other types of usage. Should we only get a certain amount of water, Metropolitan would look at how do we go about curtailing water use meeting that curve and what they would look at promoting, which is possibly zero outdoor water use. That means absolutely no watering, which currently is in stage two. We have regulated water usage for outdoor watering, given that you can water twice a week at certain times and no runoff. Should we get to that, Metropolitan would look at all of its state water users and say, we want you guys to implement no watering outside."
Zaragoza asked if the city would incur any penalties if it didn't abide by the baseline.
"Penalties to the city if we were not following that, Metropolitan, would probably be in a partnership in communication between Calleguas, Metropolitan, and the city on how we're going to go about making sure that we're enforcing that," he said.
Committee Member Vianey Lopez asked what the benefits are from going from four to six stages.
"By having more stages, it allows us to address the cutbacks from state water in different increments," Castro said. "Stage two is at 15 percent, and our current stage three is 25-30 percent. In each stage, the percentage gets a little bit smaller but allows us to spread that out over time instead of such a greater impact right away."
Lopez said the staff report mentions conducting an annual water supply to determine reductions.
"How often has this been done, and when was the last time this was done," she asked.
Water Resource Manager Abraham Maldonado said they conduct the analysis annually when Calleguas provides the city with their annual report on water supply.
"We get the information around the spring of every year," he said. "Once we get that information and look at what our groundwater allocation available for that particular year, then we look at our state water supply, and then we make an analysis to see if there's going to be a shortage. For the last several years, we have not had a shortage of water supplies. I'll be looking at this every six months or every year."
Lopez asked how residents and businesses will be held accountable to the guidelines.
Schneider said currently, all residents are encouraged to report water waste by using the city's 311 app.
"Or call us directly at 805-385-8136," she said. "Customers are an additional set of eyes for us in the community."
She said the city is taking an inform and educate approach about water waste.
"First, we send out an informational letter, and this letter includes the type of waste that is reported as well as details such as location and the time of day," she said. "The letter also lists other prohibitions on water waste within the city. We include educational information, whether that's rebates or programs that provide what the Water Division it's offering to its residents."
Zaragoza asked how the city would convey the zero base message to the public for water use.
Schneider said the city is working on a strategic communications plan.
"That would include outreach with different types of media such as utility bill stuffers, direct flyers, and posts through the city's social media outlets," she said.
Chairman Bert Perello said the large water suppliers the city purchases water from, if they go into a sharp cutoff, that rationale is that the city doesn't go to the last drop.
"The rationale is we try to conserve as much as we can," he said. "God forbid, if we go into the next year, there's a little left in the tank. That's what's going on. They don't want to run it to the last drop."
This story will continue on November 5.