Solvang City Council members agreed to table discussions about Stage 2 drought restrictions Monday night after residents used more water than projected in the first two months of the year.
Council members also agreed to call a special meeting to discuss purchasing supplemental water should the water allocation drop below 20 percent.
Public Works Director Matt van der Linden said city staff would increase public outreach to address usage and wait until April to see if there’s any change in state water allocation or rainfall.
“We are planning to have some messages in the water bills,” van der Linden said.
This year’s state water allocation is set at 20 percent, but if there isn’t enough rainfall, that allocation could be reduced to 10 percent, according to city documents.
Last year, the city's residents used 1,182 acre-feet of water. Based on this year's usage to date, residents are projected to use 1,700 acre-feet or more by the end of the fiscal year.
In January, customers used 36,122 cubic feet of water, versus just 24,915 cubic feet the same time last year.
Councilman Ryan Toussaint wanted to know the key contributing factors to the usage increase.
He brought up the possibility that many were using water to wash away the ash from December’s Thomas fire.
Van der Linden said heat waves in the winter might have contributed and that he doesn’t think the trend of high usage will continue throughout the year.
“It’s just kind of alarming right at the start of the year when you’re trying to plan for the rest of the year,” said van der Linden.
Mayor Jim Richardson said the council should give residents time to find out the council is considering reinstating the restrictions.
“Let’s hang loose for a month and let people know we’re thinking about this,” Richardson said.
Stage 1 drought restrictions are now in place, which call for a voluntary conservation of 15 percent of customer’s 2013 water usage.
Solvang lifted Stage 2 drought restrictions in April last year.
Under those restrictions, which the council modified several times after they were instituted, mandatory water use reductions were set as a percentage of customers’ 2013 use.
The reductions were 20 percent for commercial and industrial accounts, 50 percent for irrigation, 10 percent for multifamily residential units and 25 percent for single-family homes.
The penalty for violating any Stage 2 restrictions was $100 per violation.
City Manager Brad Vidro said customers would incur another $500 penalty the second month they went over the allotted amount.
Councilman Neill Zimmerman said he was against implementing a Stage 2 drought restriction.
“Why are we going for it?” Zimmerman asked.
“If we continue using water at an unsustainable rate, then it’s going to result in the city having to purchase additional water which is going to come at a cost to the ratepayers,” Toussaint replied.
Zimmerman said the council was taking a reactive stance, not proactive one.
“I think there’s a way to solve this problem without having to go through all these restrictions,” he said.