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El Dorado Irrigation District seeks 30-percent water use cut

Earlier calls for conservation went unheeded, water officials say
By: Art Garcia, Telegraph Correspondent
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The soaking weekend storms which dumped heavy amounts of rain and snow on El Dorado County last weekend were a welcome relief for an area hit with the worst drought in its history but not enough to ward off a call for voluntary conservation of 30 percent.

The El Dorado Irrigation District Board of Directors at a special meeting called last week to consider declaring a Stage 1 Water Alert instead voted to implement a Stage 2 Water Warning, which calls for voluntary water conservation of 30 percent.

The board put off consideration of a drought rate surcharge until its March 10 meeting, when it also will weigh whether to change the call for voluntary conservation into a mandate.

The board delayed a vote on a surcharge to give customers an opportunity to respond to a planned “robust” public outreach program to make water users aware of how critical the drought situation is.

Last month, the board asked customers to voluntarily conserve water, but the plea went unheeded.

Instead of a reduction, January’s total water production output was 27 percent higher than the three-year average.

“We should be 15 percent lower, so we didn’t see any conservation effort by our customers. Hopefully, we’ll see it in February and go from there,” said Jim Abercrombie, EID general manager.

Caples Lake, one of the district’s high Sierra reservoirs, is at about 55 percent capacity. Instead of being at its normal level of 22,000 acre-feet of water, it’s at about 11,000-12,000 acre-feet.

“It would take 10 feet of snow in the next two months to fill Caples Lake so the probability of relying on weather to get us out of this drought is low,” said Abercrombie.

“We can’t use hope and a prayer to get us through the next year. We need a specific drought action plan implemented so we can provide safe, reliable water service to our customers.”

Asked if customers were given sufficient time to voluntarily reduce water usage, Alan Day, EID board president, said, “No, not in my opinion.”

Day said he doesn’t believe the board should declare a rate surcharge at its March 10 board meeting.

“The next logical step in my mind is to go to mandatory water reduction and give people time on that,” he said. “Then as a last resort, a very last resort, go to rate surcharges to motivate people to save more water.”

Day, who represents EID District 5, which includes most of El Dorado Hills, said a big part of the water over-usage there is outdoor irrigation. He urged residents to “just turn their irrigation off.”

Day, who runs a landscape business, said he’s watered his yard just one time this winter. “One good soaking on the drips and the lawn and between that and the sporadic rain we’ve had is good enough”

If there’s a “dramatic” reduction in system-wide water usage of 30 percent or more, “We can keep things voluntary. I think it’s doable,” Day said.

“Failing that and we see continuing drought, we’d be forced to look at mandatory restrictions and/or rate surcharges, both of which I would really like to avoid, if possible.”

For more information and water-saving tips, visit the EID web site at www.eid.org/drought.

Customers may obtain retrofit kits at no charge to install themselves. Phone the EID office to arrange for delivery at (916) 965-0930. Free water efficiency audits also are available.