GrokSurf's San Diego

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

San Diego Council looks to relax water conservation effort

Posted by George J Janczyn on September 16, 2010

There’s an apt observation contained in this message from the president of the American Water Resources Association:

“…the present level of water use cannot be maintained…We all need to understand water conservation is not just for short-term drought shortages. For example, during the early 1990’s drought water use in San Diego dropped to 147 gallons per person per day but then after the drought use rebounded to 180 gallons per person per day. Conservation and efficiency improvements can and must be adopted on a continuing basis to meet our future water needs. Continuing and more water conservation are needed and each individual can make a difference.”

Once again, in fiscal year 2010 San Diego residents reduced their water usage by 11% over the previous one-year period, largely because of landscape watering restrictions that were enacted. Could those conservation efforts evaporate as before? That looks like a definite possibility.

This past spring Councilmember Donna Frye voiced fear that residents might succumb to a feeling that San Diego’s water supply problems are only due to a temporary drought — that the decent rainy season brings everything back to normal. To counter that mistaken impression, she proposed to make landscape watering restrictions a permanent rule, in particular the limit on how many minutes per day a sprinkler may be operated.

Before the proposal was formally introduced to the Natural Resources and Culture Committee, pressure grew from landscaping contractors with large grassy lawns to maintain (like the American Society of Landscape Architects and the California Landscape Contractors Association) and from homeowners who said they are “tired of living as if there is a drought.”

Consequently, in the days before the Sept. 8 committee meeting, the so-called “10-minute limit” on sprinkler use was quietly removed from the proposal and the committee was presented with a revised ordinance that asks only that San Diegans limit landscape watering to morning and evening hours of the day, with no limits on quantity (and even that milquetoast restriction was opposed by the contractors). As before, real watering restrictions would require a special drought-level 2 or higher declaration by the City Council. The committee approved the revised proposal and sent it on to the Council.

The City Council will soon get to vote on this ordinance that does little more than pay lip service to conservation. Once that passes and the previous watering restrictions are lifted, it will be interesting to see whether public service reminders alone will be enough to prevent consumption from returning to previous levels.

For the foreseeable future, the Council will be faced with figuring out how to limit rate increases needed to pay for increasingly expensive imported and desalinated water. From a strategic viewpoint, it’s not reassuring that they can’t even muster the will to mandate conservation which is “the most favorable and least costly option” for addressing San Diego’s tight water situation.


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