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Archive for the ‘Water conservation’ Category

What else can San Diego do to conserve water?

Posted by George J Janczyn on August 13, 2010

Santee Lakes, filled with recycled water since 1961

We’ve been hearing it for some time now. Recycling is good, but of everything that has been considered for improving San Diego’s water supply situation, conservation is the easiest, quickest, most productive and cost-effective way to do it.

According to a recent Equinox Center report, conservation has been able to replace about 10% of the region’s potential demand. For the last year, San Diego accomplished this through a temporary reduction in allowable landscape watering and a campaign encouraging individuals to reduce indoor water use by taking shorter showers, flushing less often, not running water while brushing teeth, etc.

Assuming those rules will be made permanent and not expire as a one-time symbolic nod at our unsure water supply, in the future, conservation will nonetheless experience diminishing returns after the easiest and least costly options are implemented. We probably could do better if we had more widespread compliance with mandates now in place, but if we’re going to conserve meaningful amounts of water on a permanent basis, we can’t just make half-hearted temporary gestures. What else can we do? If there are any plans to gather a master list of conservation ideas for our community to consider, here’s an early contribution:

  1. Require all residential swimming pools to be covered within 5 years
  2. Lawns permitted only in public parks
    • Prohibit lawns on any new commercial or residential development effective immediately
    • Existing commercial or residential lawns eliminated or replaced with drought-tolerant plants by the year 2020. Possible variant: residential front yard lawns banned (typically for show only) but small back yard lawns permitted (more likely to be used)

  3. Permanent ban on hosing down driveways, sidewalks, and other non-permeable surfaces unless required for sanitation/safety reasons
  4. Eliminate rules that specify when and how much landscape watering can be done and instead implement water pricing tiers that allow reasonable baseline use, promote conservation, and penalize waste
  5. Provide financial incentives to install rooftop rainfall runoff capture systems and greywater recycling systems

Agree? Disagree? What would you put on the list?


Posted in Water, Water conservation | 5 Comments »

San Diego Rates Oversight Committee endorses continued water use restrictions

Posted by George J Janczyn on July 19, 2010

The San Diego Independent Rates Oversight Committee (IROC) today voted to express support and encouragement for City Councilmember Donna Frye’s proposal to make the city’s drought-level water use restrictions permanent. The restrictions were mandated last year due to the city’s precarious water supply situation exacerbated by California’s extended drought.

Several committee members pointed out that local or regional drought has little to do with the city’s tight water supply, because our supply is not greatly affected by local conditions but because of conditions (and not only drought-related) in the entire western region that we import from. So, while expressing support for the proposal, they suggested that it would be better to avoid using the word “drought” when considering the restrictions and recognize that the need to more strictly conserve is an ongoing fact of life.

Frye agreed, saying that San Diego should permanently change its water consumption behavior to reflect the reality of the water supply situation, not conserve only under certain circumstances. Water conservation, she pointed out, is the single most cost-effective way for the city to deal with the problem.

Other points made during the discussion:

  • Alex Ruiz, SD Water Dept. director, said that about 60% of the city’s water use goes toward outdoor irrigation.
  • Donna Frye said she will continue to encourage dialogues, hold workshops, and engage citizen groups to further study the issue. She expects to put the proposed ordinance before the City Council by October.
  • Committee member Don Billings wondered if the restrictions should apply to customers using reclaimed water. The consensus was that they should. He also said cost and enforcement issues should be examined, and that tiered pricing to promote conservation is desirable.
  • Committee member Todd Webster said he didn’t like the technique of specifically mandating specific times and days that watering is permitted.
  • Committee member Jack Kubota expressed dismay that recycled water customers seem to think they should be able to use as much as they want, commenting how incongruous it is to visit Palm Springs and see lush lawns, gardens, and fountain displays everywhere. He also noted that residents who live in areas that overlap with other water districts might chafe with different rules for nearby neighbors (Olivenhain, for example, is rescinding its water use restrictions).
  • Chairman Jim Peugh wondered if the permanent restrictions might make it more difficult for the city to impose further restrictions in the future if things get tighter again.

In other news from the committee:

  • The contract for the advanced treatment facility for the Water Purification Demonstration Project (IPR Project) will be on the City Council Docket for October 27th.
  • Alex Ruiz speculated that San Diego’s 5% increase in water use for the month of June 2010 vs. June 2009 might be because June 2009 was the first month for the drought restrictions and people were inundated with publicity about it.
  • The city has had 126 water main breaks in the 2010 calendar year, 9 since June 9, at an average cost of $15,900 per break. There was some discussion about how events are studied post-mortem to improve future preventive measures.
  • There were 21 sewer spills so far this calendar year, and most were grease- and root-related. The majority of grease-related spills occur in residential neighborhoods, not in restaurant-heavy zones, which suggests a need for better residential outreach about grease down the kitchen sink drain.
  • Ex-officio member Ken Williams (San Diego County Water Authority) noted the upcoming SDCWA meeting on Thursday will consider the possible purchase of Poseidon’s desalinated water. He pointed out that the vote on Thursday is on the question to move forward with the idea. A following meeting would vote on a contract. The oversight committee agreed that this proposal should be watched and would like to invite SDCWA to make a presentation to the committee in the near future. One area of interest was how the treated desal water would be mixed with untreated SDCWA supplies, and what effect the purchase would have on City of San Diego ratepayers. Several expressed surprise that the Mayor and City Council have not spoken about the issue.

Water Conservation Data for San Diego FY 2010 Results

Customer Group FY 2010 vs. FY 2009
Residential -10.7%
— Single Family -13.6%
— Multi Family -5.3%
Commercial/Industrial -7.5%
Irrigation -20.4%
City Government -10.9%
Overall Citywide -11.0%


Single-month conservation comparing June 2010 vs. June 2009

Citywide +5.1%
Residential +2.9%
— Single Family -2.1%
— Multi Family +14.7%
Commercial/Industrial +6.1%
Irrigation only +10.3%
City Govt +11.3%


Posted in Politics, Water, Water conservation | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Mayor applauds San Diegans for exceeding water-saving targets; San Diego 6 points to reversing trend

Posted by George J Janczyn on July 16, 2010

Mayor Jerry Sanders Fact Sheet, July 16, 2010

Mayor Jerry Sanders congratulated San Diegans for cutting back on their water use by 11% for Fiscal Year 2010, surpassing the target goal of 8%. The announcement comes a year after the city declared a drought emergency and instituted mandatory water-conservation rules.

“A year ago, I urged all San Diegans to make water conservation a conscious part of their everyday lives,” the mayor said. “They’ve clearly listened.

The city set the 8% target goal last year after its water wholesaler – the San Diego County Water Authority – announced a reduction in the amount of water it would allocate to the city. The state has been coping with an extended drought as well as water-pumping restrictions intended to protect fish and other species in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta region. Those restrictions reduce the amount of water that can be pumped from Northern to Southern California.

For FY 2010, the city saw significant water savings across the board: residential dropped 10.7%; commercial/industrial, 7.5%; irrigation, 20.4%; city government, 10.9%.

While applauding San Diegans, the mayor reminded everyone to remain vigilant. The city recently learned that it will receive the same water allocation this fiscal year as last – meaning the mandatory water-use restrictions will remain in place for the foreseeable future.

Water-use city wide was up 5% this June compared to June 2009, the first month of the mandatory water-saving rules. “Now is not the time to take our eyes off the ball,” the mayor said. “Whether it’s taking shorter showers or shutting off the water while shaving or brushing your teeth, everyone must continue to make water conservation part of daily life.”

San Diegans slipping on water conservation / San Diego 6 : “San Diego residents cut back 11 percent on water usage during the recently completed fiscal year, surpassing the goal of 8 percent, but the trend is not continuing, it was announced Friday. Water use climbed 5 percent in June when compared to the same month in 2009…”
[Revised to add Channel 6 reference]


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San Diego water conservation campaign wins international award

Posted by George J Janczyn on June 21, 2010

[San Diego Public Utilities Department News Release]

SAN DIEGO – The American Water Works Association (AWWA) today has named the City of San Diego’s “No Time to Waste, No Water to Waste” water conservation public outreach campaign winner of the 2009 Public Communications Achievement Award at its 2010 annual conference in Chicago.

The campaign was created by a team consisting of Mayor Jerry Sanders’ Office, the City’s Public Utilities Department and a consultant, Collaborative Services, to address San Diego’s ongoing Level 2 drought alert, which requires mandatory water-use restrictions. The campaign is featured extensively on bus and trolley wraps, billboards, banners, signage, the City’s website and television and radio public service announcements featuring the Mayor’s call to action for residents to conserve water.

“The ‘No Time to Waste, No Water to Waste’ message has become an important part of achieving our water conservation goal and we‘re very pleased that this international association believes our campaign is as successful as we do,” said Mayor Jerry Sanders. “San Diegans are continuing to do their part by conserving water and we’re continuing the campaign to keep the momentum strong.”

The Public Communication Achievement Award is presented to organizations or individuals who foster and support the development of public outreach programs and integrate public affairs as a core element of utility planning and management. San Diego and Metro Vancouver, British Columbia were both chosen for this award.

Founded in 1881, the American Water Works Association is an international nonprofit scientific and educational society dedicated to the improvement of drinking water quality and supply. The AWWA is the authoritative resource on safe drinking water and currently boasts more than 60,000 members worldwide. The purpose of the organization is to facilitate the exchange of information pertaining to water resource development, water and wastewater treatment technology, water storage and distribution, and utility management and operations. The AWWA provides knowledge, information and advocacy to improve the quality and supply of water in North America and beyond and advances public health, safety and welfare by uniting the efforts of the full spectrum of the water community.

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San Diego lags on smart water policy

Posted by George J Janczyn on May 16, 2010

Even though the rainy season was a good one for California, it really doesn’t change San Diego’s supply picture or our near-complete reliance on water imported from hundreds of miles away through pipelines and canals. It’s good that San Diego’s residents are becoming increasingly aware of the precarious position we’re in and have responded positively, although sometimes relatively small accomplishments are overblown with hyperbole and politics. We’ll briefly look at that and then I have a few suggestions for what should come next.

941 two-bedroom market-style apartments under construction a few years ago near Naval Station San Diego

The San Diego City Council recently approved an ordinance that requires new apartment developments to have a separate water meter for each unit. Councilmember Marti Emerald’s press release calls the initiative “cutting edge” and boasts that San Diego is “setting the standard for water conservation in our region and the rest of the state.”

I wonder if she knows that Santa Monica passed a similar ordinance ten years ago. Anyway, the new measure only applies to new apartment construction, not existing structures, and even with new construction, high-rise apartment buildings are exempt from the submetering requirement.

Meanwhile, Councilmember Donna Frye worries that with mostly good news about the state’s water reserves, San Diegans will quickly revert to more wasteful ways, so she wants to make San Diego’s water restrictions permanent. The San Diego Water Department and Mayor Sanders are opposed to that idea, though, partly because the city’s policy would be at odds with the policies of the other county water agencies where the restrictions are temporary, which would lead city residents to complain about being singled out.

The San Diego Union-Tribune jumped on Frye’s bandwagon saying:

“San Diego County has two main sources of water, the Colorado River and Northern California. Supplies from the Colorado are not likely to increase much in coming years. Our water future lies in Northern California, more storage capacity, more desalination plants and conservation…. Voters in Northern California will have to be convinced that residents of Southern California are doing everything we can to conserve…”

[i.e., in order to garner northerners’ support for the $11.1 billion state water bond to finance local and regional water projects]

First, Colorado supplies “not likely to increase much” is a bit off the mark: the truth is that we were taking more Colorado River water than we had rights to and we can’t do that anymore (it belongs to Arizona and Nevada). If anything, we can expect even more reductions from the Colorado. Plus, take a look at this chart showing the river’s supply vs. demand:

Contrary to conventional wisdom, it is increased demand causing our shortages, not drought.

Second, implying that we’ll take even more water from Northern California (and suggesting we should keep conserving in order to counter objections from the north) is hardly the message we want to be sending. The signal we should send is that we’re well aware we shouldn’t be taking more than we already are, although we do need to do something to defend against a catastrophic cutoff of the existing flow due to delta levee failures from an earthquake and/or salt water intrusion from rising sea levels.

The editorial correctly observes that storage capacity, desalination, and conservation are important and indeed, we’re making progress there: we’re more than doubling the capacity of San Vicente Reservoir, the Poseidon Desalination project is proceeding, and we’re doing a fair job of conserving water and should definitely go on conserving.

That brings us to two things we hear very little about.

1. Water pricing to reward conservation and penalize waste. San Diego ought to enact a water rate structure modeled after the one used at the Irvine Ranch Water District. Their rate structure defines a typical household’s size and water needs with a water budget. Price tiers are: low-volume, base rate, inefficient, excessive, and wasteful. Prices are graduated to penalize use above the estimated household need. There’s flexibility, too. If one’s household holds more people than average and requires more water than the standard model provides, one can apply for a variance to accommodate the extra need and avoid being penalized.

For some reason, this idea of water budgets with pricing incentives has been resisted by city officials and unless we put some pressure on, they’re likely to continue avoiding the issue.

2. Indirect Potable Reuse (IPR). In my opinion, IPR has the potential to provide San Diego with a tremendous amount of “new” water, although at present it is only being contemplated as supplying a small fraction of our water needs. San Diego is currently setting up a study to determine whether IPR can be used to augment our water supplies.

IPR is usually defined as the augmentation of a drinking water source (surface water or groundwater) with recycled water, followed by an environmental buffer that precedes normal drinking water treatment.

Alvarado Water Treatment Plant at Lake Murray

In San Diego’s IPR study (also referred to as Reservoir Augmentation Demonstration Project), basically it is to determine the feasibility of taking recycled water and purifying it with highly advanced treatment. This treated water would then be blended with raw water coming in from the Colorado River and Northern California and stored at San Vicente Reservoir to age for a specified period of time. Incidentally, the purified recycled water would actually be of better quality than the imported raw water in which it is blended! Next, as is done now with imported raw water in San Vicente, the blended water would eventually go for drinking water treatment at a plant such as the Alvarado Water Treatment Plant at Lake Murray.

During the IPR study, 1 million gallons per day (MGD) will be produced. If the study proves IPR is feasible and if the city council and mayor ultimately approve an IPR reservoir augmentation plan, 16 MGD would be produced, according to Eric Symons, Public Information Officer from the San Diego Water Department.

How much water is that? Consider that irrigating Balboa Park requires around 1.5 million gallons per day.

Personally, I think even 16 MGD is too modest a goal. We should be thinking at least 50 MGD…for starters. Over the long term, IPR opens the possibility to very significant amounts of water, limited only by how much we use in the first place!

Unfortunately, there is a public perception problem. Some people have taken to using the terms “Toilet-To-Tap” or “Purified Sewage” to refer to water produced through the Indirect Potable Reuse (IPR) process. These not only sound disparaging, they also obscure the extra processes which IPR represents.

To summarize: wastewater (or sewage) is treated to tertiary recycled water standards. IPR then puts that tertiary water through advanced treatment for purification and disinfection.

A 2007 city study found that IPR water quality was equal to or better than the imported raw water stored in our reservoirs. That water then goes to a potable water treatment plant like Alvarado.

Still, the public perception problem is only that: perception. Consider: Las Vegas and other communities along the Colorado River empty their treated wastewater into the river (one of our imported sources), so it would be correct to say that we’re now doing unintentional or unplanned indirect potable reuse — without the benefit of additional treatment. The planned indirect potable reuse program being studied gives water more treatment and more rigorous quality control than our current water gets. If you look at it that way, it’s actually strange that people would react so negatively to the idea of planned IPR to augment our supplies.

So, how about some support, Councilmembers Frye and Emerald? With a smart water pricing policy and expansion of the reservoir augmentation program beyond 16 MGD, we might just offset the effects of reduced deliveries of imported water.

Posted in Indirect potable reuse, Politics, Water, Water conservation | Tagged: , | 5 Comments »

The price of water doesn’t need to go up when you conserve

Posted by George J Janczyn on April 21, 2010

Consider this breaking water news headline:

U.S. urban residents cut water usage; utilities are forced to raise rates / Circle of Blue Water News.

That’s just one of many recent news reports about water rate increases caused, at least in part, by falling revenues due to conservation efforts by customers (it’s worth a serious read).

But things don’t have to be that way.

If a water utility keeps its operating expenses separate from the price of water, then when people use less water they don’t need to be charged more for it. As it says in the above article, “[e]xisting designs for deciding water rates are the culprits. A handful of cities are restructuring their billing systems to benefit conservation-minded consumers who deserve to be rewarded rather than penalized.”

The City of San Diego is set up so that customers pay a ‘fixed’ fee and a ‘water used’ fee. The ‘fixed’ fee goes to operating expenses. By law the ‘water used’ fee can reflect only the cost of the water itself and cannot be padded to generate extra revenue. Unfortunately, since the San Diego Water Department must import nearly all its water and buys it from the San Diego County Water Authority, which in turn gets its water from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, San Diego residents are affected by rate increases from those suppliers whose water prices ARE mingled with operating expenses.

Given that situation, it’s not going to help to get angry with the San Diego Water Department when they have to pass along increased water costs. Doing something about our supplier policies is another issue, though.

However, San Diego’s water pricing system has also been criticized for failing to encourage conservation and penalize waste, not least by the Voice of San Diego as well as the San Diego County Taxpayers Association (see the Voice’s article “City officials again accused of water misrepresentations“).

The Circle of Blue item cited above says that “[s]everal water utilities have figured out how to resolve the conflict between conservation and revenue…Irvine Ranch Water District in Orange County, Calif. pioneered a new model when it instituted an allocation-based rate structure in 1991…”.

Irvine is a very good example. Even I have written about it. Here’s a link to Irvine’s water pricing system that takes user needs into account, rewards conservation, and charges more for excessive use.

“There’s no reason why municipalities who implement conservation programs should have to raise their rates,” said Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute. “If that happens it’s a failure of rate design.”

There are very good reasons for San Diego to revise its water pricing system, and we absolutely should get started on that, but don’t expect the result to be lower prices overall, because there’s another serious issue on the horizon, well stated in this On the Public Record post: “Deferred maintenance is coming due and many districts are facing the failure of systems installed in the fifties or before. Reliability must be paid for anew, and that’s why districts will need to charge more even as they’re asking people to use less water.”

Related water pricing blog posts:


Posted in Water, Water conservation | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

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.


Posted in Land use, Water, Water conservation | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »