New Water Conservation Mandates

By Kelly Mahan Herrick   |   June 21, 2022

At a board meeting last week, the Montecito Water District (MWD) Board of Directors adopted an updated drought ordinance after regulations were put forth by the State of California. This new drought ordinance (Ordinance 97) replaces Ordinance 96, which includes the District’s current water conservation requirements. 

Ordinance 96 conservation requirements are still in effect, and include the prohibition of washing of hard surfaces such as driveways, sidewalks, patios, and parking lots. Irrigating landscaping during and within two days of measurable rainfall, and irrigating landscaping in a manner that causes water to flow onto an adjacent property, walkway, street, parking lot, etc. is prohibited. Irrigating landscaping is only permitted between 6 pm and 10 am (evening, night, morning) to reduce evaporative losses, and water leaks must be repaired immediately. The entirety of Ordinance 96 is available online at 

Ordinance 97, the District’s new drought ordinance, does not change those prior water conservation requirements, and those will continue. Instead, Ordinance 97 (a) elevates the District’s declared water shortage condition from Stage 1 to Stage 2 and (b) adds all water conservation measures (total of five new) that are listed under a Stage 2 water shortage condition in the District’s Urban Water Management Plan. These actions are mandated by the State Water Board regardless of the District’s actual water supply condition, says MWD general manager Nick Turner, who met with us earlier this week. “The intent of this action is to force conservation in hopes of achieving between 10-20% reduction in statewide water use,” he said. 

The District’s five new conservation measures are as follows: targeted conservation communication to highest water users; increased water waste patrols; pool, spa, and pond refills are prohibited (“top-offs” are okay); pool and spa covers are required; and outdoor irrigation is limited to every other day of the week. According to Turner, no specific days are designated for the limited irrigation requirement, and customers may select the days that work best for them. Irrigation may take place every day on a property provided the irrigation of a particular landscape is no more frequent than every other day.

In addition, the State is prohibiting the irrigation of “non-functional turf” at commercial, institutional, and industrial sites. “Non-functional turf” is defined by the State as turf that is solely ornamental and not regularly used for human recreational purposes or for civil or community events. This does not apply to sports fields or where irrigation of turf is necessary for the health of trees. “Truthfully we don’t have many areas of non-functional turf in Montecito,” Turner said. 

 While ongoing conservation is essential for long-term water supply reliability, these immediate changes are a direct result of a recent State Water Board mandate placed on all urban water suppliers statewide and was required to be implemented by June 10. This is a requirement regardless of the District’s water supply condition. “Unfortunately, the State has taken a one-size-fits-all approach and no consideration is given to water agencies like our District, that have secured drought-proof water supplies like desal or recycled water,” Turner said. 

 In talking with MWD board president Tobe Plough and director Cori Hayman, they explained that the District has taken significant actions over the last five years to ensure that Montecito is better prepared to respond to drought in the future. These actions include securing desal water from the City of Santa Barbara for the next 50 years; storing surplus water from above-average rainfall years in a groundwater basin for future use; and most recently, securing an ability to purchase water this year and next if needed. “Our current water supply outlook indicates that we have sufficient water to meet our customers’ needs through 2024 as long as customer water use remains aligned with budget,” Turner said. 

The District is continuing to place significant focus on the importance of water conservation in addition to their favorable water supply outlook. Turner says that it is imperative that District customers use water efficiently. With 80-85% of the water use in Montecito occurring outdoors, the most effective way to achieve an immediate reduction in water use is to reduce either the amount of time and/or the frequency that the irrigation occurs on a property. The District also encourages all customers to confirm they do not have a leak occurring on their property by looking for the leak indicator symbol on their water meter and inspecting the entire property, and invites customers to schedule a water conservation audit with the District. The District’s website also includes helpful tips on how to reduce water use.  

The District’s Smart Meter Program, once fully implemented, will be a helpful tool to be used by customers to monitor their real-time water use. The “smart” part of the program has been delayed due to equipment shortages resulting from the pandemic.  The supplier is indicating the equipment could be available in fall 2022, with installation and implementation thereafter. “Once that is in place, we will have real-time information about excess use, and can help identify leaks immediately,” Turner said. 

Director Plough reports there is no current plan to return to water rationing or allocation/penalties, subject to rainfall conditions in the coming winters, customer water use remaining consistent with the District’s planning, and future State Water Board requirements. 

“We want to get our users within our water budget. We need people to adjust their use within 15-20%, and we think we can get that through irrigation adjustment and leak detection,” Plough said, adding that residents who are redesigning their landscaping should look at drought-tolerant materials. “We are asking for sensibility.” 

To read Ordinance 97 in its entirety visit


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