As the rainy season nears, all eyes are again on Mother Nature.

A wet winter, and sprinklers throughout San Diego County could shed their 10-minute limits. An average winter, or a fourth straight dry winter, and water-use restrictions are expected to continue or get worse.

There is good news. Though storage levels in seven key statewide reservoirs are still below normal, they’ve increased to 68 percent of average from 57 percent this time a year ago. And water use has decreased across San Diego County and Southern California after mandatory restrictions went into effect in summer.

But as San Diego’s City Council prepares Monday to talk about how the city can plan for a second year of shortage, water managers say another dry winter — like the last three — will keep existing restrictions in place.

“We’re not in a position where a single wet year is going to cure all our ills,” said Bob Yamada, water resources manager for the San Diego County Water Authority. “There’s a lot of (reservoir) refilling that needs to take place that would continue to be a draw on our supplies even if we have a wet or very wet year. An average year statewide is just going to kick the can down the road.”

The council’s discussion Monday will focus on the current supply picture and what the city can do to address shortages. Council President Ben Hueso said he hopes the discussion will lead the council to advance tiered water rates designed to increase conservation and penalize inefficient use.

Under that type of rate system, a household is budgeted an individualized amount of water depending on how many residents and how much landscaping it has. Those who use more than their budget are charged a higher rate than those who use what they’re supposed to.

“We can’t rely that rain and climate patterns are going to favor us,” Hueso said. “We have to create policies focused on conservation.”

The city Water Department is studying the approach, which it has previously resisted. The department’s director, Jim Barrett, is scheduled to address the council Monday at 3 p.m.

ROB DAVIS

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