GrokSurf's San Diego

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

Posts Tagged ‘Donna Frye’

San Diego’s permanent water use restrictions watered down?

Posted by George J Janczyn on September 7, 2010

Councilperson Donna Frye’s proposal to make San Diego’s drought restrictions ordinance permanent is on the Wednesday Sep 8 agenda of the City Council Natural Resources & Culture Committee. The proposed revision was intended to reinforce the idea of water shortages in San Diego being a permanent state of affairs and not a temporary condition due to unusual circumstances.

A draft of the revised ordinance was endorsed by the Independent Rates Oversight Committee (IROC) on July 19.

It appears, however, that the key provision in the draft endorsed by IROC has been removed from the draft being presented to the NR&C Committee. Specifically, the permanent requirement that landscape irrigation be limited to three days per week for limited time periods no longer appears. The only permanent restriction is that watering be done only during certain hours of the day:

  • before 10:00 a.m. and after 6:00 p.m. during the months of June through October
  • before 10:00 a.m. and after 4:00 p.m. during the months of November through May.

You can see the omission by comparing these two drafts (note item “j” in particular):

Restrictions on days and times appear only as a Drought Level 2 response in the latest draft.

I can’t help thinking this draft must be in error. If permanent water use restrictions are removed, what’s the point of revising the ordinance in the first place?

Other topics to be addressed at the NR&C meeting include: the proposed water rate increase to pass-through the price increase on imported water purchased from SDCWA/MWD (also reviewed recently by IROC); a proposed storm water quality monitoring agreement; an IPR Project update (Water Purification Demonstration Project); and an intriguing item with no explanatory details called “Water Budget Based Billing Pilot Program.”


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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 »

Which San Diego politicians really support water recycling?

Posted by George J Janczyn on July 1, 2010

San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders just yesterday announced a new recycled water hookup with Canyonside Park for landscaping irrigation (see video of announcement).

In his speech, Mayor Sanders proclaimed “Finding more uses for recycled water is an important way to maximize resources.”

Councilmember Sherri Lightner also spoke, saying “I have always and will continue to support the expansion of recycled water in San Diego as a smart reuse of water and as a water conservation measure.”

Was this really a sign of wholehearted support for water reuse, or was it just lip service?

That item should hardly be making the news. It belatedly brings the City a little closer to compliance with a 1989 City ordinance mandating the widespread use of recycled water. It’s a good, but modest project using only 13 million gallons of recycled water per year.

On the other hand, a few Councilmembers (probably with the Mayor’s secret blessings) actively resist implementation of a water reuse project that could produce an additional 16 million gallons of potable water per day, a project that was approved by the full Council years ago.

Quick history:

  • On October 29, 2007, after considerable debate and public discussion, the City Council voted to approve the Indirect Potable Reuse Demonstration Project.
  • On November 14, 2007, Mayor Sanders vetoed the resolution.
  • On December 3, 2007, the City Council voted to override the Mayor’s veto and directed him to develop a plan to begin the potable reuse demonstration project by July 2008.
  • On November 18, 2008, the City Council approved a temporary water rate increase to fully fund the Demonstration Project.
  • In May 2009, the Public Utilities Department issued a Request for Proposals for Project Management and Public Outreach for the project.
  • On Jan. 26, 2010, the San Diego City Council directed the Mayor to execute “an Agreement between the City of San Diego and RMC Water and Environment, to perform the Project Management and Public Outreach for the Demonstration Project.

In summary: the City got so far as to approve the Indirect Potable Reuse Reservoir Augmentation Demonstration Project (aka Water Purification Demonstration Project), then approved a contract for project management and public outreach, and the next step was to approve a contract to build the facility to treat the water. How did that go?

Two weeks ago, at the June 16 Natural Resources and Culture Committee meeting, the contract to build the facility was blocked from going to the full Council because Councilmembers Sherri Lightner and Carl DeMaio still had objections to the basic premise of the project and they forced a continuation of the matter saying they needed answers to more questions.

Today, the Natural Resources and Culture Committee held a special followup meeting to address those questions.

Lightner, for all her earlier interest in continuing the matter so that her questions could be answered, didn’t even show up for the meeting. That left DeMaio. Marti Emerald quickly made the motion to recommend council approval (Donna Frye obviously would vote yes). DeMaio didn’t bother asking questions and only reiterated that he remains steadfastly opposed to the project and would not vote for the committee to recommend approval of the contract. So the vote was taken and that’s how the matter will be sent to the Council.

We’re obviously dealing with foot-dragging by disgruntled politicians intent on hindering an already-approved project.

Please, it’s time to move on.


Posted in Environment, Politics, Water, Water Purification Demonstration Project | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Is San Diego’s drought permanent?

Posted by George J Janczyn on June 22, 2010

[update: Frye hopes to have this item on the City Council Docket by October]

San Diego City Councilperson Donna Frye has proposed an ordinance that would make the city’s drought-level water use restrictions permanent. The measure is currently before the Community Planners Committee which is gathering stakeholders’ input before it goes to the full Council.

One of those stakeholders, Navajo Community Planners, a city neighborhood advisory group, met in Del Cerro yesterday where board members were asked to vote their position on the proposed ordinance. Disappointingly, a large majority voted to oppose it. Discussion lasted just a few minutes with only a couple of members briefly expressing support for the ordinance.

The vote appeared to be based mostly on personal interest, not on the facts behind San Diego’s water supply. Most everyone was ready to vote in opposition without comment, although one member said she’s been using water sparingly long enough and she doesn’t want to continue using water “as if we’re in a drought.” Another member declared that the drought is over, nothing to worry about now. So that was that.

Perhaps part of the problem with the proposed ordinance is its basis in what is perceived as a temporary drought condition. But California’s years-long drought isn’t the main reason for San Diego’s water insufficiency and there will be future droughts, perhaps worse, and other significant considerations also govern the amount of water San Diego can import.

The City of San Diego imports about 90% of its water from hundreds of miles away under incredibly complex legal agreements. San Diego (indeed, all of Southern California) is struggling to cope with permanent cutbacks in the amount of water it can import from the Colorado River, having taken more than its share for many years when Nevada and Arizona were not yet taking their full allocation of water. We still haven’t gotten used to that.

Then there are the cutbacks in water from Northern California. Drought conditions certainly contributed to the cutbacks, but legal restrictions on pumping from the Delta because of environmental requirements are an equally significant cause of reduced water deliveries to the south.

The fact is that laws, contracts, and agreements can supply San Diego with plentiful water; and laws, contracts, and agreements can be changed to limit our supply of water. This will always be the case; there are no permanent guarantees.

Another consideration is the scale of extremely complicated infrastructure required to make delivery of water possible over such long distances. Any number of things can go wrong that could cut supplies quickly and dramatically. The recent magnitude 7.2 earthquake near Calexico caused considerable damage to canals and pipelines in that region, cutting water supplies to many. That could easily happen closer to home with a real possibility that canals and pipelines supplying our water could be seriously damaged. Or a major earthquake farther north could damage or destroy levees in the Delta and flood the entire area with seawater, in which case a cutoff of water to Southern California would certainly be long-term. With a cutoff of imported water, what do we do?

Cutoffs to our imported water supply would require us to rely entirely on our local reservoirs. Over the years our water managers have struggled to expand reservoir capacity in an attempt to create enough storage to give us a six-month emergency supply, but especially in the case of a Delta catastrophe, a cutoff could last much longer than that.

When we find ourselves relying on our emergency reserves, we’ll be under more severe water use restrictions than we’ve had so far, and it will be much harder on us if we are accustomed to habitually using water “as if there’s no drought.”

There’s yet another factor we’re all aware of but seem to push to the back of our minds: increasing demand due to population growth and development. That is a condition that does not change quickly and it slowly and surely reduces our available supply.

All of the points I’ve raised above are good reasons for us to permanently adjust our water use. The drought restrictions we’ve been under for the last year have been pretty easy to handle and the water conserved translates into more water in the reservoirs in case of emergency. It was easy to do because we cut back on unnecessary or wasteful use. Normal life hasn’t really been disrupted.

We could refer to the proposed ordinance as a “permanent drought restriction ordinance” or we could call it something like “living within our means ordinance” or “scarce water supply ordinance” but to the question “is San Diego’s drought permanent?” the answer is, for all practical purposes, yes.

So it’s best we continue the modest conservation we’ve been doing, and further, we should more actively support the development of new water resources like the Indirect Potable Reuse/Reservoir Augmentation Demonstration Project.

[update: I just received word from the Public Utilities Department that they are renaming the project to Water Purification Demonstration Project for publicity purposes. The original name will still be used for city council business.]

There shouldn’t be any question about how to vote on Frye’s proposed ordinance. Why in the world would anyone support a return to wasteful water use?


Posted in Water, Water Purification Demonstration Project | Tagged: , , , | 10 Comments »

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 »