Declining to implement more severe restrictions now, a Santa Ynez Valley water district board on Tuesday night declared a stage one water supply shortage emergency and urged customers to cut water use by 20 percent.
The Board of Directors for the Santa Ynez River Water Conservation District, Improvement District No. 1 took the action, because of a looming state regulation that may require not using some wells and leaving the district with a water shortage.
Effective July 1, the State Department of Public Health will implement new chromium-6 regulations, limiting ID1’s ability to utilize groundwater supplies. This new regulation comes as the water district, which also receives water from Cachuma Lake and the State Water Project, is dealing with ongoing drought conditions.
Known as ID1, the district serves the communities of Santa Ynez, Los Olivos, Ballard and Solvang. With approximately 6,700 customers (excluding the city of Solvang), ID1 provides water through more than 2,500 domestic and rural residential/limited agricultural connections, and nearly 120 agricultural connections.
“From ID1’s point … if we didn’t have these chromium-6 conditions we would be floating through this drought without too much to worry about,” ID1 General Manager Chris Dahlstrom said. “However, July 1 starts the compliance requirements and we will be having to incrementally reduce our ability to produce water from the groundwater basin which will constrain and strain the other sources of water.”
After the board issued a voluntary alert advising customers to reduce water use earlier this year, the district actually saw a 29 percent increase, General Manager Chris Dahlstrom said.
“The voluntary request didn’t work,” Dahlstrom said, adding residential customers on large parcels were some of the top offenders. “The alert didn’t work.”
That’s why Dahlstrom recommended the board adopt more stringent stage two measures, but board members balked at adopting its first stage two declaration in its 55-year history.
Instead, the five board members unanimously approved stage one measures, most of which involve common sense such as not watering in the middle of the afternoon.
“Just because you’re hot doesn’t mean the grass is hot or the plants are hot," Dahlstrom said. "They might be, but the most efficient use of water is your early early morning or late in the evening.”
District officials are advising people to avoid watering between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m., to turn off fountains, and to put placards advising of water conservation measures in local hotels and restaurants. Residents should avoid washing driveways.
Stage two measures would have been more severe.
Dahlstrom urged the board at least adopt stage one measures Tuesday night.
“We will, in effect, be either shutting down agriculture in the summer or having to do something else because we will not have the water supply,” Dahlstrom said, adding that the next rainy season is critical for the district.
Board members also rejected including a moratorium on new customers, although Dahlstrom warned not including it could lead to a flood of applications from several customers planning big projects such as the Chumash expansion, Mattei’s Tavern and Rona Barrett’s Golden Inn and Village home for low-income seniors. Once the district issues a “can and will serve letter,” it’s obligated to provide water to the development, according to Dahlstrom.
Officials later decided developers could apply, but that doesn’t mean the district has to issue a “can and will serve letter” if the water supply doesn’t support new customers.
Joan Jamieson, a local land-use consultant who also serves on the Solvang City Council, spoke against the proposed moratorium, saying the district didn’t notify local residents about the possible ban on new customers.
“If the public had known that you were going to create a moratorium at this point and time, this room would have been very very full,” she said. “There are people out there that have their plans in the works … and now you’re going to tell them that they don’t have water and they spent thousands and thousands of dollars to get to this point.”
Board members also questioned the penalties and process for customers caught wasting water.
Solvang Mayor Jim Richardson also suggested the board consider penalties. Solvang implemented stage one drought measures earlier this year, becoming the first in the county to do so, he noted.
“You can’t allow this to happen without the penalties,” Richardson said. “It doesn’t make sense. They’re not getting spanked so they’re going to keep on doing it.”
Dahlstrom said he fears peak water demand later this year could exceed the supply, noting the bad timing of the chromium-6 regulations.
“If we had our groundwater basin we would not be in this position. This is an institutionally created drought,” Dahlstrom said, referring to the looming new regulation.
Chromium is a naturally occurring element found in rocks, soil and ground water in California. Specifically, the new regulation is targeting hexavalent chromium, or Cr-6, which has been limited to 50 parts per billion for decades. The new rule limits Cr-6 to 10 parts per billion. The federal government sets a standard of 100 parts per billion for chromium. The state actually hopes to get the number down to 0.02 parts per billion, officials said in July 2011.
“California is the first and only state in the nation to establish a maximum containment level specifically for chromium-6 in drinking water,” Dr. Ron Chapman, state’s public health officer, said in a June 3 press release. “Establishing this maximum containment level underscores California’s commitment to safe drinking water standards to protect the public health.”
Board members also hinted they were considering joining another agency’s lawsuit over the chromium-6 regulations.
Officials expressed frustration that state legislators, Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson and Assemblyman Das Williams, haven’t helped in the efforts to get the state to set a level that wouldn’t force the district to stop using some wells.
Early Tuesday, Dahlstrom spoke to the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors about the concerns.
“The more help we get the better it’s going to be … ,” he said. “We requested they become more involved and that they give us a hand.”
The district also is planning a public workshop in August.