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Planning for Droughts for More Than 50 Years

Paul Cook, general manager of the Irvine Ranch Water District (IRWD), recently answered several frequently asked questions about the drought and what it means for residents and businesses served by IRWD.

How did IRWD prepare for this kind of drought?

Developing and operating a reliable water supply means being prepared for changing conditions, including droughts. If you review our district’s history since the early 1960s – and the history of The Irvine Ranch and Southern California over the past century and a half – our weather cycle has been regularly punctuated by droughts. Some have been relatively brief, lasting only a couple of years, while others, like the one we currently find ourselves in, have lasted four or five years or longer.

One of the most important things IRWD did to ensure reliable local water supplies, even during periods of low rainfall, was build the Michelson Water Recycling Plant in 1967. The plant’s water recycling capacity established Irvine as an early national leader in water-conservation efforts.

What other steps did IRWD take to save water?

Another critical step we took was implementing a successful tiered water rate structure during the drought of the early 1990s. IRWD customers are allocated a monthly water amount based on several factors, including the number of residents in their home, the size of their landscaped areas, and the current weather. If customers exceed their monthly allocations, they pay higher rates designed to cover the higher costs of purchasing additional imported water supplies and for operating the District’s urban runoff, water banking and water conservation programs.

Has the tiered rate structure worked well?

Since 1991, IRWD’s allocation-based conservation rate structure has helped our customers achieve a 50% reduction among residential water customers and one of the lowest daily per-person water consumption averages in California.

How much water usage is IRWD required to reduce under the state mandate?

IRWD must reduce water use in its service area by 16%, effective July 1, 2015. To achieve this, IRWD is proposing to adjust its rate structure by decreasing monthly outdoor water allocations. The reduced allocations will now support a drought tolerant landscape watered with an efficient irrigation system such as drip or similar system. Landscapes that require more water or that utilize non-efficient irrigation methods, including sprinklers and over-head spray may result in over allocation use and higher bills.

Are rebates available to remove grass?

Yes, as well as several other rebate programs. IRWD works closely and proactively with residents and businesses on ways to use our water resources wisely and efficiently. We offer a broad array of useful programs and services to our customers that are aimed at making their homes and businesses more water-efficient. With the state’s recent mandate to further reduce potable water use throughout our communities, it is important for our customers to take advantage of the valuable water conservation programs that we offer. Currently, there are several such programs, including those covering turf removal, weather-based irrigation controllers, high-efficiency toilets and clothes washers, and others. More information is available on our website, http://www.irwd.com/save-water-money/rebates.

Do we have enough water for the future?

The short answer is yes, but while Irvine’s water supply is reliable, IRWD and our customers are also under the recent state mandate to reduce consumption of potable water. There are many ways to achieve this, and I encourage readers to visit our website, www.irwd.com, to learn about the many steps they can take to make a big impact on their water usage.

How will this drought impact the average resident?

This drought is challenging all us to reflect on how we use water in our daily lives – and then to adjust our habits and routines to save every drop we possibly can.

In previous years, many of our water conservation programs targeted indoor water use efficiency. These programs have proven very successful, with most of our customers having implemented various measures to reduce their indoor water consumption. As indoor water efficiency measures get closer to reaching their saturation point, we must now turn our focus toward other areas where water use can be further decreased.

Outdoor water conservation is an area we believe will provide tremendous water savings in both the short term and the long term. In urban environments, the amount of water used to sustain grass lawns is often 60 percent or more of a customer’s total water use. The dynamic of favoring landscapes with unsustainably high watering needs is going to have to permanently change if we are to maintain a long-term, reliable water supply.

How can residents learn more?

IRWD already offers many useful programs and services to its customers for minimizing their outdoor water use, with additional resources becoming available all the time.  Customers should visit the “RightScape” page (http://www.irwd.com/save-water-money/rightscape) on our website to find out more information about the many ways in which they can conserve water in their outdoor landscapes.