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SAN DIEGO — The San Diego City Council voted unanimously Monday night to make the voluntary restrictions on water use in the city mandatory starting November 1 in response to the continuing drought and dwindling water supplies.

City officials were prompted to make mandatory the voluntary restrictions, which had been in effect since July, in an attempt to reduce water usage up to 20 percent and avoid a potential supply shortage.

“The state is in an unprecedented drought so we need to do more,” said J. Brent Eidson with the San Diego Public Utilities Department.

To make sure San Diegans are doing more, the city is boosting its response to water waste complaints and educating residents on why they should cut back.
“To explain what the new rules area, and to give them the opportunity to correct the action. We’re not going to be putting water cops on the street,” said Eidson.

Due to the ongoing severe drought, the California Water Supply Project which provides 70% of its water to Southern California will not only supply 5% to San Diego.  “That is extremely abnormal … we have never seen that low of an allocation before,” said Eidson. To make up for shortages, water agencies are relying heavily on local reservoirs.

The Metropolitan Water District, the major water wholesaler in Southern California, has only 49 percent of its usual water storage capacity available, the San Diego County Water Authority is at around 37 percent, while reservoirs serving San Diego are at 44 percent of capacity, according to city documents.

“We do need to take swift action to conserve even more water, and by conserving today we can ensure we have this water in the future,” Councilwoman Sherri Lightner said.

“We live — as you all know — in a coastal desert and we should always be water wise, but now more than ever we have to be extremely conscious of our water use.”

The mandatory restrictions will include:

  • limiting watering lawns to three days a week;
  • limiting watering to seven minutes per station during the cooler weather months;
  • requiring using hoses with shut-off nozzles or timed-sprinkler systems to provide water to landscaped areas;
  • limiting washing vehicles to before 10 a.m. or after 6 p.m.;
  • limiting watering potted plants, vegetable gardens and fruit trees to before 10 a.m. or after 4 p.m.; and
  • prohibiting watering lawns or plants on rainy days.

Councilman David Alvarez said the water-saving measures are not expected to impact residents’ quality of life.

“This is more of a way to keep us mindful about our water use, and to make sure not one drop gets wasted,” Alvarez said.

“One of the restrictions is no water should run off your property, so if you’re going to wash your own car you need to do that over landscape. The best thing to do is to go to one of your local car washes,” said Brent Edison with San Diego Public Utility.

Water Resource Manager Luis Generoso said enforcement would begin with a letter pointing out water waste and a two-week period for the violator to correct the issue.

If the problem persists, the scofflaw would then receive a phone call or in-person visit. If no action is taken, the matter would be turned over to code enforcement, he said.

The last time the city implemented mandatory water restrictions was from June 2009 to May 2011. In that time, only one person was fined for violating the rules, city officials said.

Megan Baehrens of the environmental group San Diego Coastkeeper told the council her agency would work to ensure the restrictions are enforced.

“A mandatory restriction without enforcement is no better than a voluntary recommendation,” Baehrens said.

The restrictions will be enforced on a complaint basis and can be submitted through a mobile app. The Waste No Water application for iPhone and Android allows San Diegans to report suspected water wasters.

These restrictions will remain in place indefinitely.

Sarah Sapeda of City News Service contributed to this report.