This week the City announced it would maintain current drought restrictions, including penalties for over use despite recent rains.
January was a landmark month after five years of drought in California. It simply poured: last week alone parts of the Sierra Nevada received eight to twelve inches of rain, according to Drought Monitor. Parts of California saw the wettest January in 112 years of record.
While the picture is improving, Los Angeles County remains in extreme drought. Despite the good news up north, groundwater levels have been slow to catch up and remain critically low.
“There is no difference in our groundwater supply,” Santa Monica’s Public Information Officer, Constance Farrell said in an interview. “The rains were not enough to make a difference. The aquifers are 300 to 600 feet underground and it would take a significantly larger amount of rainfall to make a difference.”
While the groundwater level remains the same, public perception is changing and that could hurt efforts to save water.
With stormy weather in January and the news Northern California is completely out of the drought, water usage in Santa Monica is already starting to creep back up. Last February, 80 percent of customers used less than their water allowance. Last month, that number was down to 74 percent.
The strides in conservation have allowed the City to cut back on the amount of water that has to be imported from other areas of California, but the City is far from reaching its ambitious sustainability goals.
“Over the last two years, our water customers cut use and for 82 days we were able to meet all of our water needs just using local groundwater supplies,” Public Works Director Susan Cline said in a press release.
That’s just a drop in the bucket. The Public Works Department has a goal of complete water self-sufficiency (365 days a year) by 2020. The goal was established in 2011, just before the state became entrenched in a five-year drought.
“This is the new normal in California,” Farrell said, adding the City is sticking with the goals.
The City will continue to use both the carrot and the stick to grow groundwater supplies. More than 600 customers in Santa Monica have received penalties for using too much water. Most of the over-users chose to have an in-person water use consultation to get their fee waved. The City has not released a list of households that received penalties.
The drought rebate program remains popular. So far, the City has given out more than 15,000 water-saving products and rebates since 2015.
Water saving solutions:
Faulty irrigation systems are the number one reason residents exceed their water use allowance, according to the City. Many systems default to running the sprinklers ten minutes a day, every day. That adds up fast: about 300 gallons a day for a home with fifteen sprinklers.
Of course, getting rid of your grass could solve the problem completely. The City still offers rebates up to eight thousand dollars for landscaping.
During their in-person consultations, water auditors find a lot of leaky toilets. A toilet that’s constantly running is wasting two gallons or more every minutes and usually just needs a new flapper.