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Keep an eye on: The winter weather. Not here. Up in the Sierras.

That’s going to be the key factor in determining whether water-use restrictions may be lifted this coming year or whether they’ll continue past June.

Right now, San Diego and other cities in the region are under orders to use 8 percent less water. If they don’t, they face penalties from the San Diego County Water Authority, the wholesaler that delivers water throughout the region.

Because San Diego gets about 10 percent of its water from local sources, the region relies on the Sierra snowfall that melts and courses through the massive 738,000-acre Sacramento Delta. A string of drier-than-normal winters there — plus restrictions on how much water can be pulled out of the delta — have put a crimp in the massive infrastructure hose that sends water to San Diego.

The water picture right now: Still looks tight. But it could change drastically.

So far, the state Department of Water Resources, the agency responsible for pulling water out of the delta, says it won’t be able to meet demand. Water agencies throughout the state have requested their typical amounts from the delta.

The department is only guaranteeing that it’ll meet 5 percent of that demand. (That’s the lowest guarantee since the delta became a statewide water source in the late 1960s.) The estimate increases, though, as winter snowfall socks the Sierras.  (It’s gone from 10 percent to 100 percent before. Earlier this year, it stopped at 40 percent.) That final figure won’t be known until late winter or early spring. The current cut was announced in April, after the state’s snow had stopped falling.

My 2010 focus: I’ll keep working to hold San Diego officials and the region’s largest users accountable for their consumption trends.

I’ll continue tracking San Diego’s discussions about water rates designed to encourage water conservation. I’ll also be trying to paint a fuller picture of our water supply and how water gets here. So if you have questions about the way the statewide water infrastructure system works, e-mail them to me at or comment on this post.


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