The CSD won't require Murietans to cut lawn watering to twice a week after a legal opinion said the state's water proclamation cutbacks were voluntary, not mandatory.
Residents will be able to water their landscaping up to three times a week despite a proclamation from Governor Brown that calls for limiting outdoor watering to a maximum of twice a week. Although the Rancho Murieta Community Services District initially viewed compliance as a given, a legal opinion from district legal counsel now has the CSD viewing the water use provisions as requests, not mandates.
“The governor’s proclamation says ‘should,’ and it lists several items that you could do to help reduce wasted water,” General Manager Ed Crouse said during a brief discussion at the CSD Finance Committee meeting Wednesday.
Referring to a legal opinion from district counsel, Paul Siebensohn, director of field operations, said the proclamation’s water use terms are “not a mandatory requirement to comply, but it’s a request.”
Siebensohn added that the district is “still in the Stage 1 water warning, requesting 10 percent cutbacks” in water use.
“I’m a little ticked off. Why would we think we’re above the state?” said Director Bobbi Belton, reacting to the legal opinion. “I think we’re playing with numbers to benefit a handful of people who don’t care at what cost they can have lush lawns.” As for limiting watering to two days a week, “I think we can all live with that,” Belton said.
When the proclamation was discussed at the Improvements Committee meeting last week, CSD President Jerry Pasek took a different view. "The problem I got with the twice a week is landscaping will really go to hell. … The lawns won't survive," he said.
At last week’s session, the discussion centered on complying with specific provisions of the state proclamation. Information distributed at the meeting highlighted limiting outdoor watering of landscaping to no more than twice a week.
Correspondence from Amy Marie Talbot of the Regional Water Authority -- a multi-agency body which counts the CSD among its members -- covered requirements and the expectation that CSD would report its drought activities and their effectiveness, part of the requirements of the state proclamation.
At its April 16 meeting, the CSD board of directors rejected a staff recommendation to keep the community's drought response at Stage 2, requiring a 20 percent cutback in water usage. The drought response was reduced to a Stage 1 water alert with a conservation goal of 10 percent. The board action added a third watering day per week effective May 1.
During the first quarter of 2014, when the Stage 2 drought response was in effect, water use declined a total of 8.8 percent from the same period last year.
The reduction in the drought response to Stage 1 wasn’t due to the community’s conservation efforts, as the letter the CSD sent to customers made clear. “The Directors took this action because the late season winter storms produced enough precipitation to allow the District to fill the storage reservoirs to capacity,” it reads.
Last year, the CSD budgeted for a reduction in water use and raised rates to compensate for the anticipated loss in revenue. 2013 was a record dry year, and water use increased, producing surplus revenue. The draft budget for 2014-15 uses a water conservation rate of 8 percent and has a rate increase to compensate for the expected loss of revenue.
The response to dry conditions has been to water more, even during the winter months.
Siebensohn noted in his monthly report on field operations that the average usage per customer connection was 355 gallons per day in December 2013 versus 231 in December 2012, and concluded, “it appears people have begun irrigating again.”
At the March board meeting, General Manager Ed Crouse referred to a consultant's memo showing higher water use in December, January and February, and said, "It was just dry and warm, and residents felt the need to irrigate because there was no natural precipitation."
At the same meeting, Assistant General Manager Darlene Gillum noted that water use in January this year was 30 percent higher than January 2013. "Last year, January and February 2013, were extremely high use (months)," said Gillum. "And even with our 28 percent reduction, we're still almost 12 percent higher than we were last year."
The rains that enabled the CSD to fill the reservoirs began in February, when Cosumnes River flows rose to a point where diversion into the reservoirs was allowed.