Landscape watering in Rancho Murieta is being limited to certain hours and days under drought emergency restrictions put in place by the Community Services District. Next month, the district will consider implementing tiered water rates as a way to discourage water wasters.
The community’s reservoirs -- Clementia, Chesbro and Calero -- are currently about 60 percent full. The CSD has been unable to divert water from the Cosumnes River, the source of all community water, since the diversion season began Nov. 1 because river flows haven’t been strong enough. Judging by the long-range forecasts, the CSD might not be able to divert any water at all this winter.
Facing the prospect of a drought unprecedented in the community's history, the CSD board voted Wednesday night to declare a Stage 2 drought emergency. Under the declaration, residents are asked to reduce water consumption 20 percent.
The board discussed the mechanics of getting water from Lake Clementia into the water-treatment system as well as pumping groundwater for the community's use later this year.
The board called for a prohibition against all landscape watering from Feb. 1 to March 9, the start of Daylight Savings Time, because landscaping doesn't require much water in late winter. On Thursday, CSD staff notified RM.com that the absolute prohibition had been lifted by staff because it isn't required in the Stage 2 drought emergency.
Instead, a CSD notice being sent to the community will outline restrictions on landscape watering. Here's part of the notice:
Landscape irrigation shall be limited to a maximum of two (2) days per week when necessary and no watering schedule (e.g., additional minutes) increases are permissible on designated watering days. Two (2) days per week water is sufficient for landscapes in Rancho Murieta. Customers are to use cycle and soak watering with up to three short watering cycles. Watering shall be based on the following schedule.
1. Customers in Watering Group A (Murieta North) may irrigate only on Tuesdays and Saturdays.
2. Customers in Watering Group B (Murieta South, Murieta Village, and commercial) may irrigate only on Wednesdays and Sundays.
3. Watering times will be during the hours of 8:00 p.m. to 8:00 a.m. only.
“We’re not having any rain, and it’s extreme,” consultant Lisa Maddaus of Maddaus Water Management Inc. told the board as she began a presentation based on the technical memorandum she prepared for the CSD. Maddaus said the three-month seasonal outlook is for dry conditions, and unless there is a significant change in the weather patterns that increases the snowpack and rainfall, CSD may not be able to fill the reservoirs between now and May 31, the end of the diversion season.
The river flows are now running in the low 20s cubic feet per second. The best-case scenario is “If it’s above 70 cfs for 29 days and we’re running three 500-horsepower pumps, we’re going to get our water,” Director of Field Operations Paul Siebensohn said.
Maddaus used 1977 as the baseline in modeling drought scenarios where water could not be diverted from the Cosumnes.
The 1976-77 drought has been the extreme-case scenario in Rancho Murieta’s water planning.
“The ‘what if’ came, but it’s even worse than the ‘what if’ we were planning for,” said General Manager Ed Crouse at Wednesday’s meeting. “We could divert a little bit in ‘76, nothing in ‘77, and then we got back to normal in ‘78. ... That’s a one-in-200-year probability. ... We have a 99.5 percent chance that we’re going to be able to divert every year, but because of where we are right now, that statistic no longer counts. Because unless it changes next year and we can divert, it’s going to be worse than we’ve experienced ever.”
At this point, Maddaus said the “worst-case scenario is no pumping at all, we continue to be dry, if your customers, the residents here, did not respond, then you would drain your reservoirs by the fall. ... Calling for cutbacks ... is a prudent measure, also pursuing the augmentation well as kind of the back-up supply... Your charge is to supply health and sanitation needs, and fire protection ... Your ultimate worst case scenario might be that you would need the well in the fall.”
Charts in the memorandum look at a 20 percent cutback for two years. “If we get nervous later on at the end of summer and we see that the prediction is still going to be a drought, we might want to go to 50 percent because you’re going to plan for the worst and hope for the best,” Crouse said. “...We’re still hopeful that we’ll get some rain, we’re hopeful that the augmentation well will help us, we’re hopeful that the residents will heed our call and voluntarily cut back 20 percent.”
Most water districts are moving to a 20 percent reduction in water use, with further evaluation later, Crouse said. Stage 2 limits irrigation to two days a week and institutes tiered rate pricing.
Crouse said his understanding was that a 20 percent cutback in watering would stress turf but not kill it.
When asked about the impact on Rancho Murieta Association operations and community recreation, Crouse replied, “Typically landscape and play fields are the first to have cutbacks. They’re deemed lowest priority from a public health and safety standpoint. I know that’s going to impact a lot of the baseball and soccer and lacrosse.”
In normal years, Lake Calero water storage is sufficient to meet the community's current water demand, but storage in all three reservoirs can be tapped in a drought. Clementia, the swim lake, will be used as a raw water source “exactly like the Cosumnes River,” and the water will be pumped to Calero, Siebensohn said.
If the CSD can’t divert water to fill the reservoirs, using Clementia for swimming is a moot point since the reservoir loses four to five feet due to evaporation and seepage by September each year. According to Crouse, the RMA says residents don’t like to swim there once that happens because the water is warm, there are algae issues, and the area for swimming is reduced. “Once you drop it four feet, that swimming hole becomes non-usable,” Crouse said.
Siebensohn said the CSD could start using Clementia at any time if the district knows it will need the water, and staff will know that by April or May.
Crouse provided an update on the district’s ongoing augmentation well project, saying a deadline of Sept. 1 has been set to have an operational well to provide a back-up supply of water.
Crouse said engineering consultants are designing three wells. If the first well at Cantova Way produces more than 200 gallons a minute, Crouse said a second would be drilled nearby. If the first well produces less, the project will move to a second test hole location farther south since water production needs to be 400 gallons a minute, Crouse said.
If necessary, portable power and above-ground piping will be used to meet the September deadline, and well water will be treated using a plug-in package plant before it’s pumped into the distribution system at Cantova. “It’s going to be costly to get there because it’s going to burn money really fast,” Crouse said. He added that the CSD will be in competition for well drillers because of the demand for wells created by the drought.
The CSD received a grant to fund half the the $1 million estimated cost for one well and one pipeline, and additional funds may be available for cost overruns, Crouse said. CSD funding comes from water augmentation reserves.
The schedule calls for a two-month design period and six months to bid and construct the wells.
According to the CSD Water Shortage Contingency Plan adopted in 2012, “tiered rate pricing will be instituted at this stage to promote more equitable and efficient water use and in an effort to meet demand cutback goals.”
At the CSD meeting Wednesday, Crouse said, “The tiered pricing is to send a signal to the residents that the more you use, the more it’s going to cost. So therefore, it’s a voluntary reduction in water use.”
Crouse said most tiers are revenue-neutral or offer a savings over the course of a year of 5 to 10 percent. The three tiers the CSD would consider are based on 10 years of water-use data.
Crouse said Tier 1, the lowest tier, covers basic indoor water use with a modest amount of outside irrigation; Tier 2 is typical irrigation for a normal size home with modest landscaping, and Tier 3 targets excessive water use and water wasters with rates that act as a disincentive for excessive use.
Crouse said the budget for revenue to maintain CSD water operations is based on Tiers 1 and 2, while the third pricing tier is a disincentive, and the revenue would be used to fund outreach, a water conservation coordinator, additional rebates and other water-saving efforts.
“If you stayed within that Tier 1 for the entire year, you could save money for every user, no matter how many kids you have or anything,” Crouse said when board members began to speculate about the effect of family size and other variables on indoor water usage.
In compliance with Prop. 218, ratepayers would receive a notice about proposed tiered pricing rates and a public hearing would be held before the board adopted the rates.
CSD staff estimates fiscal impacts related to a Stage 2 drought at over half a million dollars. The costs itemized in Maddaus’ memorandum include the operating cost of the larger pumps that will be used if and when river flows reach the threshold for diversion; a 12-month SMUD surcharge triggered by the power demands of the larger pumps; a 20 percent revenue loss for reduced water use; and increased administrative costs for water use monitoring, conservation incentives, and outreach efforts.
Maddaus noted that tiered pricing helps with the fiscal impacts of drought.
Current water use
Residents have responded to the dry winter by increasing water use, with higher than expected use in November and an increase of 100,000 gallons per day in December.
Director of Field Operations Paul Siebensohn noted in his monthly report that the average usage per customer connection was 355 gallons per day, versus 231 in December 2012. He concluded, “it appears people have begun irrigating again.”
“We’re in unprecedented conditions. ... We’ve seen a December we’ve never seen, we’ve seen a January we’ve never seen before in our record,” Maddaus said at the board meeting. “ ... The irrigation demand is the lowest right now. You don’t need irrigation. ... I think the key is right now is just educating everyone (to) do what you can now. We could be preserving as much storage as we can with our choices just today. You all are water managers at your tap.”