Rather than backing off on conservation efforts in this apres -drought period, North County water agencies have set their sights on developing a new, long-term water ethic for the region.
Despite the relief delivered by recent rains, this is still a desert, and residents need to act accordingly, water officials say. And even though the desert itself is green right now, it will take years for depleted water tables and reservoirs to recover from the drought.
"The recent rainfall was 150% of normal, but it will take six years at that rate to get back to pre-drought conditions--and that's unlikely," said Lynda Pinizotto, an independent consultant to the Metropolitan Water District, which supplies about 90% of San Diego's water.
To help keep folks from "backsliding," local water agencies are launching information campaigns and developing new rules, volunteer water-saving practices, poster contests and videocassettes. They have designated May as Water Awareness Month.
"Past statistics show people slip back to old habits after two years (of conservation efforts), but we'll probably have a dry '93 to provide (stimulus to) conservation," said Jeanne Flack of Carlsbad, an administrative analyst for the MWD.
"This city's growth rate is not going to be curbed by water shortages. Conservation has to become a way of life," Flack said. Water reclamation and reactivation of nearby ground-water collection basins are among projects planned.
A number of water districts in the area have banded together to coordinate conservation programs. Members of the North County Water Agencies include Vista, Vallecitos, Oceanside, Carlsbad, Olivenhain, San Dieguito, Valley Center, Rancho Santa Fe, Rincon del Diablo, Rainbow and Fallbrook.
The San Diego County Water Authority last week modified its policy for member agencies, calling for a voluntary rather than mandatory 10% reduction in water use. Local districts can still mandate conservation and most are in the process of addressing the issue.
"We shouldn't get complacent and start wasting water. We (in Vista) use the term 'The Forever Drought,' " said John Amadeo of the Vista Irrigation District.
Following the county action, the Vista district voted to continue most policies established during the declared water emergency.
The Public Utility District of Fallbrook has mandated a water use reduction of 10% and published rules that look a lot like the mid-drought ones.
There's nothing startling in the common-sense approach adopted by Fallbrook: No outdoor sprinklers between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. No over watering or allowing water to run into the street. No hosing of sidewalks or driveways. Use a bucket to wash cars. Restaurants serve water only on request. Install water-saving shower heads and low-flush toilets.
For those who respond only to economic stimuli, there will be something to think about when water rates go up in July, and even more to think about in a few years (1995) when federal Environmental Protection Agency water purification standards go into effect. Many districts are going to feel the financial pinch when their water suppliers bring the newly mandated purification techniques "on line"--at higher costs that will be passed on to home users.
Further pressure for water conservation will likely come from kids.
For the past two years, the county Water Authority has, with the cooperation of North County water districts, been putting on programs in local schools and providing teachers with videos.
"By June we'll have hit every school in the county," according to Mark Stadler of the authority. "The kids realize that it's their future, and they pressure their parents to shut off the faucet."
Stadler sees a generational difference at work. "The parents think the water problem can be solved with cash instead of conduct--paying higher rates and building pipelines. The kids know the resources are limited and might get used up--that the answer is conduct instead of cash."
A water authority poll last fall found that 59% of residents were willing to pay more for water.
Few have rushed out to put in low-water-use, xeriscaped lawns, said Michelle Fick of the Fallbrook Public Utilities District.
"Michigan lawns are fine for Michigan but not for conditions here. Outdoor watering uses up 60% of the water in North County. People are still letting their automatic lawn sprinklers go on during the rain. They don't know how to change them."
But, she adds: "The schools are doing a good job. The kids have got an eye for this."
North County residents interested in the latest post-drought rules and tips can call their local water district for more information.
Here are some of the numbers:
Vista, 724-8811; Vallecitos,744-0460; Oceanside, 966-4850; Carlsbad, 438-2722; Olivenhain, 753-6466; San Dieguito, 753-1145; Valley Center, 749-1600; Rainbow, 728-1178, and Fallbrook, 728-1125.