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Monday, February 18 , 2019, 7:00 pm | Fair 51º


Montecito Nears Decision on Mandatory Rationing of All Water Use During Drought Emergency

The Montecito Water District wants to start rationing water immediately and says the entire area will be out of water by July without extreme measures.

If the district’s Board of Directors approves the allocation plan Tuesday, the agency will start limiting water use for all customers. Montecito is a community known for tall trees and lush estates, but California’s prolonged drought is taking its toll on the water supply.

There is no sign of voluntary conservation and on Feb. 11 the district declared a shortage, which came with restrictions aimed at cutting water use by 30 percent. Among other things, customers are not allowed to irrigate yards in the middle of the day, drain and refill swimming pools, or serve water in a restaurant without the customer requesting it. If it doesn’t rain, the district could ban all outdoor watering, according to a February letter mailed to customers.

The restrictions are punishable by fines, or the district can install flow restrictors for individual customers.

Ordinance 92 allows one written warning for violations and then a $250 fine, which doubles with every new violation up to a maximum of $1,000. At a public meeting for the ordinance, Montecito residents asked the water district to do more, general manager Tom Mosby told Noozhawk.

The district’s board will meet at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday to consider the rationing plan. The meeting will be held at at the Montecito Community Hall, 1469 East Valley Road, instead of district headquarters.

Rationing should only affect people who haven’t adopted conservation measures or use an “excessive” amount of water on their yards, the district said.

There has been no meaningful rainfall and no State Water Project deliveries this year. Meanwhile, customers used twice as much water in January as the district expected, which made things worse.

Without rain, the district will only have enough water for interior health and sanitation uses next year, according to the district’s allocation plan. The agency is looking into other sources of water and hopes Santa Barbara starts up its desalination plant, but it still needs customers to conserve water to get through this year.

The majority of Montecito’s water is used for outdoor landscaping at single-family residences, which account for 74 percent of total water and make up 94 percent of all water accounts in the district.

Safe drinking water is a priority during a drought so outdoor irrigation is considered nonessential. The district proposes giving homes 25 HCF (hundred cubic feet) of water for “essential” water use (which is the amount given for the first tier of water rates now) and an extra 112 HCF per acre, per year for nonessential uses like outdoor irrigation. There are 748 gallons in one HCF unit.

The reductions should save the district more than 500 million gallons if customers abide by the new rules. If they don’t comply, the district will hand out penalties and install flow-restrictors to the water lines.

Under this rationing system, Montecito would allocate 4,298 acre-feet of water to single-family residents, with only 1,002 acre-feet available for multifamily residential, commercial, institutional and agricultural customers combined. One acre-foot represents 326,000 gallons, the amount of water it would take to cover an acre, 12 inches deep.

The biggest institutional users are the private colleges, golf courses, cemetery, public schools, public park and a senior living facility, according to the district. The biggest commercial users are, naturally, resort hotels. Agricultural use would be reduced by 32 percent, institutional use would be reduced by 15 percent and commercial use would be reduced by 1.9 percent.

Apartment buildings and other multifamily residential customers use less than 2 percent of the district’s water. District staff want to reduce the allocation to 6 HCF from 9 HCF per dwelling unit, which will target outdoor watering without affecting health and sanitation water use.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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