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Morro Bay reduces water restrictions after winter storms curb drought

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For the first time in two years , Morro Bay will receive 100 percent of its state water allocation—one positive result from a series of devastating winter storms.

On April 25, the Morro Bay City Council unanimously approved easing some of the water restrictions it implemented during the drought for the upcoming 2023-24 water year. The city cited Gov. Gavin Newsom's recent announcement that lifted statewide water restrictions as the reason for doing so, alongside projections that San Luis Obispo County will stay drought-free for the remainder of 2023.

"The biggest change this resolution has is increasing the number of days you can water in a week," Morro Bay Utilities Division Manager Damaris Hanson told New Times. "Most of our water comes from state reserves, and we already have 100 percent allocation this year, which means we can make this change feeling confident that we will have access to all the water we would potentially need throughout the year."

DROUGHT DISSIPATION San Luis Obispo County is just one of multiple counties now no longer included in the state projections for drought—paving the path for an easing of water usage restrictions. - PHOTO COURTESY OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA
  • Photo Courtesy Of The State Of California
  • DROUGHT DISSIPATION San Luis Obispo County is just one of multiple counties now no longer included in the state projections for drought—paving the path for an easing of water usage restrictions.

Hanson told New Times that the number of days residents can irrigate increases from two days per week to no limit, but the city is keeping the restriction of not allowing irrigation between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. In addition, visitor-serving facilities will no longer be mandated to display water conservation requirements—a change that reflects the state's departure from emergency drought status.

In July 2021, Newsom included SLO County in a drought state of emergency declaration, which was upgraded to a severe state of emergency later that year. Morro Bay followed suit by implementing severe water restrictions that limited use—beyond basic water use for cleaning and cooking—except for two days in the week and prohibited recreational water use (mainly watering lawns) for any reason between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Heavy rain and snowfall across California this past winter helped move several counties, including SLO County, out of drought status, leading Newsom to ease restrictions for most of California on March 23.

State Water Project reservoirs are at or near capacity. The state's largest reservoir—Lake Oroville—is at 89 percent of its total capacity and 119 percent of its historical average capacity and is releasing water via spillways to make way for snowmelt, according to the state Department of Water Resources. Morro Bay's water is primarily held in San Luis Reservoir, which holds SLO County's state water allocations. The reservoir ended the wet season at full capacity.

Newsom's announcement, Hanson said, enabled the city to reconsider its severe water restrictions.

"We evaluate the drought condition like this every year around this time," Hanson told New Times. "We know that California is always going to have that threat of drought, so we will always keep our eyes on that aspect of it."

Hanson said that while residents can now water more times a week, the city doesn't anticipate many residents changing their water usage habits—especially going into the warmer summer months.

"I don't see it affecting us this summer," Hanson said. "Most people who are using the water are currently only watering two days a week as is, so I don't really see an influx of people using their water more since they are so used to the severe restrictions and have adapted around that."

Regardless of whether people will change their habits, Hanson and the city are confident that the city and state can look into the future with less concern about drought impacts thanks to the winter storms.

"We really wouldn't be changing these restrictions if we were going to go back and change them within a year," she said. "The impact this rainwater has had makes us feel very confident that these changes will be long-term." Δ

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