GrokSurf's San Diego

Local observations on water, environment, technology, law & politics

Sub-metering ordinance approved–will promote water conservation by apartment dwellers

Posted by George J Janczyn on April 5, 2010

941 two-bedroom market-style apartments under construction (in 2008) at Naval Station San Diego

[Revised; originally published Feb 25]

The first public hearing for an ordinance at today’s San Diego City Council meeting will require new apartments in San Diego to include water meters for each unit effective June 1, 2010. The motion passed unanimously and the item will proceed to the second public hearing for adoption in two weeks on Apr 20.

[The second public hearing and adoption passed routinely].

Regarding water charges, tenants in submetered units will not receive water bills from the city; rather, they will be billed through a third party. Tenants will also be subject to a formula allocating between them the fixed fee portion of water bills that might apply to vacant units in their building. Any building permit application on file prior to the effective date will be exempt from the ordinance. It is not known how many projects “in the pipeline” — in planning stages but not yet having filed an application — may be affected. Certain high-rise developments will also be exempt, but council members expressed hope that the state of California will begin permitting “point of use” meters in such cases–apparently there is a regulatory issue with such meters at present.

Click here to view video of the council meeting.

The ordinance carried forward by San Diego City Councilperson Marti Emerald was first conceived in an ad-hoc committee of the Committee on Natural Resources and Culture (see Item 4, Oct 7, 2009 agenda) and passed through the Planning Commission (Jan 21, 2010 docket, item 11) before being scheduled for the Mar. 9 city council meeting [Item 335 on the docket (to be heard in evening session after 6pm), click here for supporting materials].

Breaking the story when the proposal was first made, the Voice of San Diego’s Rob Davis added a personal perspective on individual apartment dwellers who currently have no way to gauge their own water usage. The Voice followed up with a “Fact Check” piece confirming Ms. Emerald’s estimate that apartment dwellers would use between 15 and 39 percent less water if they were responsible for paying their own water bills.

That’s an impressive savings in total, but only a gradual one, since it would occur only with new construction, not with existing apartments which would require retrofitting. Still, as Davis points out, more than 80,000 new apartments and condos are expected to be built in San Diego between now and 2030. [Late update: over 1.2 million new residents are expected in San Diego by 2050, according to the SD Union-Tribune. 80% of them would be multifamily units.]

This somewhat tardy ordinance mislabeled “cutting edge” (when you consider Santa Monica did this ten years ago!) will contribute to the city’s water conservation efforts, but the estimated new apartment construction highlights the perpetual dilemma the city has with respect to its limited water supply: population growth. All that new development will require more water than we now have access to, so we cannot relax from vigorously pressing forward with initiatives such as producing purified reclaimed drinking water (via Indirect Potable Reuse), exploiting new renewable groundwater resources, and putting strict new limits on additional development in the city.

See also:

Rob Davis posted this extra insight into water metering for high-rises.

The Union-Tribune also had this story.


One Response to “Sub-metering ordinance approved–will promote water conservation by apartment dwellers”

  1. One would think that cities all over California would passing this kind ordinance. Making people responsible for the water they use should be a no brainer.

    That said, simply submetering is not good enough. Under ‘submetering’ you could just put in water meters and send people out once a month or two to read them visually, so that what you gain through metering you lose in inneficiency. The better way to do it is to install what’s known as a fixed-network automated meter reading system. Properly done, such a system provides near real-time reports of consumption. Let me put it another way, you wouldn’t want to only have access to your bank balance once every couple of months, would you? Same thing for water. You should be able to know how much water you’re using on demand, maybe even compare your household to the neighborhood average.

    Kudos to councilperson Emerald for the proposal, now let’s just hope the rest of the council go along with it.

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