Local water rationing to increase after Labor Day
Stage 3 water rationing will begin on Catalina Island on Sept. 6, the day after Labor Day. Normally, Stage 3 rationing requires a 50 percent reduction in water use, but the California Public Utilities Commission will allow a slightly lower reduction in Avalon.
Avalon Councilman Oley Olsen said it would be a modified version of Stage 3 rationing, which would mandate 40 percent reduction in water use for Avalon users and 50 percent for the rest of the Island. According to Olsen, Sothern California Edison finally received a permit for the Island’s second desalination unit to process brine water. Olsen said the combined plants would generate 325,000 gallons of water a day.
That, by the way, is almost 1 acre foot of water. Recently, the water level at the Thompson Reservoir has been decreasing by roughly 2 acre a week.
According to Olsen, Avalon is already saving water at 42 percent below the baseline, so he expected minimum impact from the new water restrictions. He said he could see possible impact on the hotels.
Mayor Anni Marshall said it was hard to predict the economic impact of Stage 3 rationing because she didn’t know what the hotels would do.
According to an Edison presentation to the Tuesday, July 19, City Council, commercial water consumption is greater than residential. For example, in May residents throughout Catalina Island used 6.4 acre feet of water. That same month, Island businesses used 11.2 acre feet of water. An acre foot is enough water to cover 1 acre of land 1-foot deep in water—or 325,851 gallons.
The last time Catalina was in Stage 3 water rationing was in the 1970s. At that time, hotels asked guests to bring their own linen and towels—as they do today for a discount on the room rate.
Catalina Island residents and businesses are acutely aware of the need to conserve water and have worked hard to reduce their water consumption. Yet, because of extreme drought conditions, Catalina has been in 25 percent water rationing since August 2014.
The community has taken measures to cut back water use and has been successful in delaying 50 percent water rationing. These efforts have resulted in consumption being reduced by an average of 40 percent. Southern California Edison, Los Angeles County and the city of Avalon also partnered to bring a second desalination plant online in April, so far producing more than 7.7 million gallons of drinking water. But the impacts of the historic drought in California, combined with a weak El Niño that brought less-than-expected rainfall and predicted La Niña conditions this winter, means additional water rationing is needed.
Earlier this week, the water level at SCE’s Middle Ranch Reservoir had dropped to 160 acre-feet, 15 percent of capacity, a level not seen since the drought in 1977. (As of Thursday, July 21, the water level was down to 157 acre feet.) This led to SCE’s announcement that it will implement Stage 3 water rationing on the Island.
“This is a difficult decision and we are very much aware of the impact this will have on residents and visitors to the Island,” said Greg Ferree, SCE vice president of distribution. “The community has come together to conserve, and it was their efforts that made it possible to delay the decision to go to Stage 3 rationing, but the continuing severity of the drought and the forecasted La Niña winter conditions meant we had to act now to be good stewards of the water supply.” The plan was announced at the Avalon City Council meeting this week. and implementation is scheduled to begin on Sept. 6. “In activating Stage 3, we wanted to ensure that we used a targeted approach that recognizes that some customers on the Island have made tremendous strides in conservation,” said Ron Hite, SCE district manager for Catalina Island. “Instead of implementing 50 percent reductions Island-wide, there will be a floor on water allotments to minimize the impacts to customers who have already made exemplary water-saving efforts.”
Stages of water rationing on the Island are triggered by the water level in SCE’s Middle Ranch Reservoir. The current 25 percent rationing began in August 2014 when the reservoir level fell below 300 acre-feet. The trigger level for Stage 3 rationing is 200 acre-feet.
SCE will soon file a request with the California Public Utilities Commission to implement Stage 3 rationing and submit its implementation plan. This will be followed by notices to residents and business owners as well as a public meeting to address questions related to customer allotments and percentages.
SCE serves about 4,000 year-round residents on the Island and its 700,000 visitors each year.