Water Questions Answered

It has been about six months since mandatory water restrictions hit California, but billing methods, ways to cut back and other details about water cutbacks remain as confusing as ever.

This week, The Malibu Times is answering the questions to some common questions residents have about water cutbacks.

How are water use goals calculated?

Every two months, a new bill comes in the mail with a new target for how many units of water to use. But how are those goals created? They are based on the average residential use throughout District 29 for the same period in 2013.

If you have a water meter of one inch or less, like the vast majority of Malibu residents, you fit into this category. Because 2013 was before suggested cutbacks went into effect, it is considered to be a fair indication of “average” use across the area, before residents were strongly encouraged to use less water.

• Based on Malibu and Topanga’s heavy water use, the area was given an overall 36 percent cutback goal.

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• Say the average use in Malibu in December 2013 was 100 units per household, the restriction for December 2015 would be 64 units. 

• If your household is accustomed to using 70 units per month, your personal cutback is six units to get to 64.

• If your household is accustomed to using 120 units per month, your personal cutback is 56 units to get to 64.

• The restriction will change every billing period to reflect the average for that period two years ago.

• According to bills provided to The Malibu Times, the goal for the current period is about .52 units per day.

How can I cut down?

Many Malibu residents have put in months of effort and thousands of dollars toward curbing water use, but even minor lifestyle changes can cause major water use reductions.

• Check sprinkler systems for leaky pipes or faulty sprinkler heads.

• Use rain barrels to collect rainwater for watering plants.

• Cut back on watering except when necessary to keep plants alive.

• Be sure to not water plants or landscaping within 48 hours of measurable rainfall.

• Install a graywater system for irrigation using water from appliances like washing machines.

• Replace some plants with succulents or cacti that do not require constant watering.

• Check out stories about the Greenberg family and Jan Burns — residents who have cut back on water use — for other ideas.

How are we doing so far?

Malibu’s water use reduction was off to a good start this summer, but since then, residents have struggled to keep up with the demanding targets. The target of 36 percent reduction in use is further away this winter than it has been since before mandatory cutbacks were put in place.

Versus the same period in 2013: 

• In June and July, Malibu residents on average cut 27 percent of water use.

• In August, Malibu residents on average cut 21 percent of water use.

• In October, Malibu residents on average cut 19 percent of water use. 

“It is important to note that October 2015 was one of the warmest Octobers that has ever occurred in Malibu,” Waterworks District 29 acting District Engineer Dave Rydman told City Council during a November meeting.

What about El Niño?

With all the rain predicted with this winter’s El Niño weather patterns, there is some speculation as to whether the ongoing megadrought will be relieved and water restrictions will be lifted.

According to recent data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the odds of drought “removal” will be slim, but “improvement” is likely in the period from December 17, 2015 to March 31, 2016.

“The most likely area for removal exists across extreme northwest California due to abnormal wetness during early to mid-December and a continued wet pattern forecast during the remainder of the month,” NOAA predicted. “Effects from the multi-year California drought, such as low reservoir levels, may continue beyond the outlook period.”

Please send any additional questions about water to emily@malibutimes.com for possible inclusion in a future story.

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