By Jeremy Ogul | Editor
Can you cut your water usage by 20 percent or more this summer? Helix Water District certainly hopes so.
Carlos Lugo, the district’s general manager, is urging residents to act quickly to reduce their water usage to avoid fines.
Mandatory conservation regulations took effect June 1 as a result of Gov. Jerry Brown’s executive order. The regulations require Helix Water District to reduce its overall usage by 20 percent over the next nine months.
“That’s a big task,” Lugo said.
Customers so far have done a great job in conserving water, especially considering 22 percent reduction that has already been achieved over the last six years, Lugo said.
Now comes the hard part.
“To meet this 20 percent reduction is going to be a significant challenge for us,” Lugo said.
The challenge is especially urgent now because the best time to achieve the most water conservation is during the warmest months of the year, when outdoor water use — particularly landscape irrigation, topping off swimming pools and washing vehicles — is at its highest.
“The most we can do is in the next three to five months,” he said.
Helix provides 29,464,931 million gallons of water per day to residents and businesses in La Mesa and other East County communities. The average residential customer uses about 105.5 gallons per day. Thus, a 20 percent cut equates to just over 20 gallons a day.
Lugo said Helix board members and others argued for a smaller cut. They told state regulators that the mandate didn’t adequately account for differences in climate, differences in the average lot size of single-family homes in the area, or the fact that the San Diego region as a whole has already made great strides toward conservation.
State regulators were not swayed.
“Whether we agree with it or not, we’re mandated and we have to meet it,” Lugo said.
To get to 20 percent, Helix has restricted customers to watering lawns no more than twice a week. Watering is never allowed between the hours of 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., and each irrigation station should be limited to no more than 10 minutes at a time.
The district is encouraging residents to minimize the size of grass turf lawns (one slide in Lugo’s presentation advised residents to “keep the area you lay on and play on”) and to replace sprinkler spray nozzles with rotary nozzles. They also suggest installing faucet aerators and replacing old toilets and clothes washers with high-efficiency versions. They are even giving away free low-flow showerheads.
Though Helix does have the authority to levy fines against water-wasters, Lugo said that is not the approach the district is taking right now.
“We’re focused on education,” he said. “We’re not out to try to penalize people with fines. We’ve received over 725 calls of violations, and we have not issued one fine yet. The residents have been very, very responsive to our calls.”
That said, residents who use significantly more water than the average will be assessed a fine on their bimonthly water bill. Using more than 30 units of water in a two-month period will result in a fine of 55 cents per unit beyond 30 units. The average customer uses 26 units.
Greg Humora, La Mesa’s public works director, said the city has been doing its part to cut back water use. In some places, the city has installed Calsense irrigation controllers, which are managed by computers that can detect when an irrigation head is leaking, or when it’s raining. The controllers also allow city workers to manage irrigation systems remotely.
“We’ve been busy trying to comply with the governor’s executive order to not water the grass on our medians,” Humora said. “The tricky part is where we have trees.”
Landscape workers have been working to adjust the irrigation heads on the medians of major thoroughfares in the city so that they are only watering trees, not grass, he said. They have also adjusted watering schedules to comply with Helix limitations.
For more information about Helix Water District’s drought restrictions, and to report an incident of water waste, visit hwd.org.
—Write to Jeremy Ogul at firstname.lastname@example.org.