Water & Drought

Granite Bay water district says it will no longer follow state water conservation mandate

Pointing to improved conditions at Folsom Lake, a water district serving one of the region’s wealthiest areas announced Friday that it would not follow conservation targets mandated by the state this year and would instead ask its customers to voluntarily cut water use by 10 percent.

The San Juan Water District provides water to about 32,000 retail customers near Folsom Lake, including the community of Granite Bay. Its customers consistently use more water per capita than the customers of any other water district in the region, though they also sharply reduced their use during the last nine months, state figures show.

The state has mandated that the district cut its water use by 33 percent through October. Other districts across the state also face mandated cuts. However, San Juan district officials said Friday that rapidly improving conditions at Folsom Lake and a healthy Sierra snowpack make such large cuts unnecessary.

The district’s board of directors voted Wednesday to shift from a State 4 Water Crisis Conservation level back to a Stage 2 Water Alert Conservation level. A Stage 2 level translates to a voluntary water cuts of 10 percent and the removal of a drought surcharge.

“Our greatly improved water supply conditions make it very difficult to defend a continued 33 percent reduction in use,” said Keith Durkin, San Juan’s assistant general manager. “We are still encouraging customers to conserve and use water efficiently. Moving to a Stage 2 doesn’t mean we are going back to the way things were before the drought.”

San Juan officials said they expect the state to back off conservation mandates later this spring due to improving conditions.

“For the first time in years water is being released from Folsom, Shasta and Oroville reservoirs for flood control,” said Lisa Brown, San Juan’s customer service manager. “We think reducing from a mandatory Stage 4 to a voluntary Stage 2, which includes removing the drought surcharge, is an important step in recognizing that we are in a different water status now.”

George Kostyrko, a spokesman for the State Water Resources Control Board, said the board will consider changes to its conservation mandates in May, after the rainy season has ended. Before then, it will hold a public workshop seeking input on mandated conservation targets.

But nothing has been decided yet, Kostyrko said, and much of the state is still struggling with low reservoir levels and depleted groundwater aquifers. In recent months, the board has fined water districts not following conservation orders.

“The drought is not over,” he said. “While some parts of the state, primarily Northern California, have benefited from recent rains and snowpack, other parts of the state such as the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California continue to endure drought conditions.”

Brown said district officials have been in contact with the state board and discussed their concerns but did not seek its blessing before Wednesday’s action. District officials acknowledge that some areas may need to continue strict conservation mandates, but San Juan is not among them, she said. District officials expect San Juan customers will continue to conserve, but to a lesser degree.

“This is not a slap in the face of the Water Resources Control Board,” she said. “Even though we are moving kind of against their action, we still support what they are doing.”

Durkin said that board members “were not trying to be adversarial” and that they “directed staff to continue to work collaboratively with the State Water Resources Control Board to provide ideas on how to ‘unwind’ the emergency regulations.”

Tom Gray, general manager at the Fair Oaks Water District, said he agrees that the region’s water supply is in much better shape than it has been for years, and that it is unfair for the state to mandate steep cuts for his district this year. But he will recommend to his board that they not yet defy the state water board.

“I think it is prudent to give (the state water board) a chance to perform,” he said. “My recommendation will be to see what the state does.”

In July, San Juan Water District customers used more than 400 gallons of water per capita, more than 100 gallons per capita more than any other district in the region, state figures show. However, the district’s customers also managed to decrease water use by 34 percent from June 2015 to February 2016. The district’s customers tend to have larger-than-average lots, which increases the amount of water needed for irrigation.

The district is heavily reliant on Folsom Lake for its water. Folsom Lake levels are currently above their historic average for this time of year and officials have released tens of billions of gallons in recent weeks from the lake for flood control.

“We have been getting so many calls from our customers saying, ‘I can’t believe you are still calling for us to save when they are releasing water,’ ” Brown said. “It’s a very difficult message. They just don’t understand.”

Phillip Reese: 916-321-1137, @PhillipHReese