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Water Conservation In San Diego Is Working

Audio

Aired 9/28/09

Mandatory water restrictions have been in place for about three months now. So, are San Diegans conserving? We take a look.

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Above: Water conservation has increased by about 16 percent, but San Diego's water supplies are still low.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. Since June, San Diegans have been forced to rethink the way they use water. Mandatory water conservation restrictions aimed at cutting usage by up to 20% have put limits on outdoor watering and, in some areas of the county, boosted rates for water hogs. It seems that those measures have been a success. There have been double-digit drops in water usage reported in the county this summer. The reduced watering schedule has produced its share of brown lawns around San Diego but water officials say they’re still working to refine their conservation mandates. And there is speculation about whether the expected El Nino wet weather this winter could ease water restrictions through the spring and summer of next year. For an update on the outcome of San Diego’s restricted water use summer and what may lie ahead, I’d like to welcome my guests. First, I’ll be speaking with Dina Friehauf. She is principal Water Resources Specialist for the San Diego County Water Authority. And good morning, Dana.

DANA FRIEHAUF (Principal Water Resources Specialist, San Diego County Water Authority): Good morning. A pleasure to be here.

CAVANAUGH: Later in the program, we’ll hear from water officials from both the City of San Diego and Olivenhain. And we’d like to invite our listeners to join the conversation. What do you think about this summer’s mandatory water restrictions? Were they too much or too little? And how well do you think they were enforced? You can give us a call with your questions and your comments. Our number is 1-888-895-5727, that’s 1-888-895-KPBS. Dana, we’re about three months into mandatory water conservation, so give us an overall view. Are these cutbacks working?

FRIEHAUF: Great. You know, I’m happy to say that, you know, for July and August the residents and businesses in San Diego County have done really an excellent job in reducing their water use. We were looking for about a regional 8% cutback from – again, from our residents and businesses. And I’m happy to say that in July we achieved about a 16% savings over last year. August: 10% savings from last year, and some preliminary numbers from September are also showing that our deliveries continue to be down from last year, so that is some excellent news. We still have, you know, October coming around, which can be warm, so we’re still looking for folks to continue their conservation efforts.

CAVANAUGH: Now, I’m a little confused. Weren’t we aiming maybe for around 20%?

FRIEHAUF: Well, actually the cutbacks that we received from the Metropolitan Water District was up to about a 13% cut. Because of our local supplies and our transfers from IID, we’re able to reduce that number to down to 8% as far as a reduction region-wide.

CAVANAUGH: Now do you think that people have worked conservation into their everyday lifestyle? Or do you think this is something that they still have to be reminded of?

FRIEHAUF: You know, it appears since we received – achieved such tremendous savings that part of it could be a lifestyle change, and that’s what we’re hoping for is that people understand that we live in a desert and it’s important to use water wisely.

CAVANAUGH: And I also did some reading about this, and people were speculating maybe because our summer wasn’t that hot and maybe because we’re in a recession and people are looking at all their bills and trying to cut down, that also attributed – contributed to the drop in water usage.

FRIEHAUF: Well, in regard to the weather, actually this summer has been a bit warmer…

CAVANAUGH: Hmm.

FRIEHAUF: …than last summer. But the issue of the economy, yes, that could have played a role with foreclosures and such occurring and with the amount of ag conservation that’s had to occur and some farms potentially having to, you know, not farm as much during these – this last summer. So the weather has been warmer but the economy could have also played a role though.

CAVANAUGH: Well, we’re still at a level II drought alert. Is – Do you – What does this mean to people who are using water?

FRIEHAUF: Well, it means they have to continue to be thinking about using water wisely. There’s still uncertainties with the weather this coming winter and also with the cutbacks or the, I should say, the restrictions on pumping water from Northern California on the state water project due to endangered species in the Delta. We still have some uncertainties as to how much water we can deliver from Northern California. So I think, you know, we still have some uncertainties as the winter unfolds. So I think it’s important that we, you know, again, continue to use water wisely.

CAVANAUGH: Now do you see that level, though, shifting anytime soon? What if we get one of these really wet El Nino winters?

FRIEHAUF: Right, right. One of – There’s – I guess there’s two things, obviously a nice, wet El Nino condition would be a tremendous help to us but there’s two things you’ve got to remember. First of all, rainfall here is fabulous, it fills up our local reservoirs, it dampens demands, but what’s most important is that we have adequate snowfall and, you know, rainfall in Northern California in the Rockies because that’s where most of our water comes from. And then, again, as I mentioned, we still have those restrictions on what we can pump from Northern California. So even if we do get those reservoirs full up in Northern California, we still could be limited as to what we can pump down into Southern California so there’s those two things we’ve got to remember and so as really we’re – there’s still uncertainties as to whether, you know, we will have restrictions next summer or not.

CAVANAUGH: Dana Friehauf of the San Diego County Water Authority, I wonder if there’s – have you heard any interesting ways that people have been conserving water? What have been the most – some popular ways that you’ve heard of people saving water?

FRIEHAUF: Well, I think where we’ve seen, you know, the most savings is on irrigation of the lawns. I think you’ve talked about seeing a few little brown spots but I think that’s where we’re going to get the most savings, is from, you know, the efficient – more efficient irrigation of the lawns. That’s where we’ve, I think, seen the most waste was outdoors. So I think in managing, you know, your irrigation system is going to be the most effective way to save water.

CAVANAUGH: And the San Diego County Water Authority has just restarted some water conservation rebites – rebates, that is, haven’t they?

FRIEHAUF: Yes. Yes, that’s – it’s tremendous. Just I think it was just a week ago or so the Metropolitan Water District—and we work closely with them—is now offering rebates for high efficiency clothes washers and washing machines. I encourage folks to go to the twentygallonchallenge.com website and there’s a link there for that. They’re only available for a limited time though so, you know, we’d encourage people to look into that as soon as possible.

CAVANAUGH: We are taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. Let’s hear from Robert in North Park. Good morning, Robert, and welcome to These Days.

ROBERT (Caller, North Park): Good morning. I just wanted to address one of the comments, I think, that was made before you had started the program about the potential for relaxing some of the restrictions, and I think we have an opportunity right now to really get people used to the idea that they live in an arid region and start developing sort of an culture of conserva – conservation so people get in the habit routinely of not wasting water and being water conscious. Even if we had the wettest winter in recorded history this winter, it really doesn’t make a difference as far as the climate…

CAVANAUGH: I understand.

ROBERT: …and we should – Go ahead.

CAVANAUGH: I understand, Robert, and I thank you for the call. And I want to ask Dana, that’s really the mindset now of the County Water Authority, isn’t it? That, you know, these maybe not mandatory restrictions but people being water wise in conserving water should – is something that’s going to be ongoing.

FRIEHAUF: Yeah, exactly. And I appreciate the comment from the caller because that is important, that we do continue to use water wisely, and common sense type measures. You know, not watering in the middle of the day, obviously, and, you know, again sticking to the watering – assigned watering days. And then it’s really up to the retail agency on, you know, the types of restrictions that work in their community. But overall, yes, this strong conservation ethic, I think, is something important that we have to continue on out into the future.

CAVANAUGH: Well, Dana, thanks for joining us this morning.

FRIEHAUF: Great. Thank you for the opportunity.

CAVANAUGH: Dana Friehauf is prinicipal Water Resources Specialist at the San Diego County Water Authority. And I’d like to welcome two new guests now. Chris Robbins is Water Conservation Supervisor for the City of San Diego. Chris, welcome.

CHRIS ROBBINS (Water Conservation Supervisor, City of San Diego): Good morning.

CAVANAUGH: And Kimberly Thorner is General Manager, Olivenhain Municipal Water District. Kim, welcome to These Days.

KIMBERLY THORNER (General Manager, Olivenhain Municipal Water District): Good morning. Thank you for having me.

CAVANAUGH: And I want to remind you that we are taking your calls. If you have a question or a comment about water conservation either this summer or what’s coming in the future, give us a call at 1-888-895-5727. Chris, how have people responded in the city of San Diego to mandatory water restrictions?

ROBBINS: Well, the latest data that we have has shown that in June and July, we had a 13% reduction from June and July of 2008. And then the August numbers, there was an 11% reduction.

CAVANAUGH: Now that’s – Is that along the lines of something that you expected? Or is that better or worse?

ROBBINS: We were all pretty pleased by seeing that amount. As you – I think you noted earlier that the weather may have been a little cooler and Dana said, well, it was a little warmer. I do recall a specific day in June where I went to work and there was rain on the ground, which struck me as pretty unusual.

CAVANAUGH: Yeah, I remember that day as well. Yes, so the summer hasn’t been – This is just anecdotal, this is just me, I don’t think it’s been as hot, as dry, as summers in the past, but maybe I’m wrong.

ROBBINS: Well, maybe it was June that was a little cooler and then July and August got a little warmer and so just like anything else, there’s some variances in it, and I think that’s why the numbers show the 13% earlier and then in August it retracted just two percent.

CAVANAUGH: And, you know, I wonder, part of the restrictions included the water regulations, watering on only certain days of the week. And I wonder how the city has been monitoring that.

ROBBINS: That’s a really good question. We’ve added four additional field representatives to go out and do field investigations on water waste complaints. And water waste complaints jumped markedly from when there were no restrictions in place. Over the three month period, June, July and August, the deep summer months, we got over 2100 water waste complaints, almost 700 a month, which is up from what we would typically see, you know, years before would be about 80 a month, so from 80 to 700 per month.

CAVANAUGH: That’s amaze – Did you expect that kind of response?

ROBBINS: You know, we expected that it would get higher. We didn’t really expect it to be that much higher. And some of those values, there may be dual complaints where this citizen saw water coming and another citizen saw it and they both put it in to us. So that does happen from time to time.

CAVANAUGH: And what happens when you get a call like that? What’s the procedure?

ROBBINS: The data gets entered into a database. It’s a wave database which lets the supervisor look through it and see if we’ve already got a complaint on this specific topic, and then it’s routed out to the field representatives and they put together a plan so that they can, you know, efficiently use gasoline to go to the various locations they need to, and in most cases they want to help the customer get in compliance rather than write citations. I think we’ve heard the word ‘water cop’ around.

CAVANAUGH: Yeah.

ROBBINS: They really don’t like to be called water cops. They try and gain compliance through education.

CAVANAUGH: Kim, any water waste hotline in Olivenhain?

THORNER: Yeah, actually we do. We have a water waste hotline where folks can call in if they see water waste going on, and that’s actually been very popular. Customers still call in to our customer service representatives but we average about five calls per week on our hotline reporting water waste.

CAVANAUGH: Do you have field officers as well?

THORNER: No, we don’t. We – In light of the economic times and the state taking the property taxes, we are kind of limited financially. So we’ve asked our existing employees, our meter readers, our field customer service representatives, to actually hang door hangers while they are out on their routes.

CAVANAUGH: Right. Right. That’s a good idea. We’re speaking about mandatory water conservation measures enacted in all parts of the county this summer, and asking if they’ve worked, how well they worked and will they continue. We have to take a short break. When we return, will start taking your phone calls. You’re listening to These Days on KPBS.

# # #

CAVANAUGH: Welcome back. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. And this morning we’re getting an update on how well mandatory water conservation restrictions worked in San Diego this summer. My guests are Chris Robbins, Water Conservation Supervisor for the City of San Diego, and Kimberly Thorner, General Manager, Olivenhain Municipal Water District. And we’re taking your calls on what you think about this summer’s mandatory water restrictions. Our number is 1-888-895-5727. And let’s take a call. Roman is calling from Carlsbad. Good morning, Roman, and welcome to These Days.

ROMAN (Caller, Carlsbad): Good morning. I often hear people talking about the demand side as a way of solving the water shortage problem, whether it be through not watering your lawn as much or taking shorter showers and so forth. But I often don’t hear people talk about the other side of the incentive mechanism which is price. It seems to me, and this is purely subjective, that water’s extremely inexpensive at the moment. At least with my water bill, I don’t have much financial incentive to conserve despite my emotional incentives to not want to run out of water. Why do you think – How is price determined in this county? Is it a free market process? Or is it regulated and kept artificially low? And is anything being considered from that supply side price incentive point?

CAVANAUGH: Well, I think we can definitely handle the second part of your question, Roman. Let’s see, Chris, would you like to weigh in on that?

ROBBINS: Probably we missed – the best authority on it was Dana…

CAVANAUGH: Dana, right.

ROBBINS: …from the Water Authority. There’s different rates depending on seasonal issues and so forth. The latest figures I’ve seen is, you know, 400 and some, plus a transportation charge for one acre foot of raw water. That’s kind of a local cost of water. And one acre foot is equivalent to about—we all watched the Chargers yesterday—figure the football field one foot deep, that’s an acre foot.

CAVANAUGH: And, Kim, I know that the City of San Diego did not implement any kind of rate – tiered rate structure to try to conserve water. Did Olivenhain also go that way? Or are they charge…

THORNER: No, no, we actually do have drought pricing.

CAVANAUGH: I see.

THORNER: And actually to go to the first part of the question, as public agencies, we’re not-for-profit agencies.

CAVANAUGH: Right.

THORNER: So in setting the price, you look to recover the actual cost of the water plus your operating costs without adding in a profit. However, several agencies around the county, Olivenhain included, have implemented what’s called drought pricing. And we did a study last year and we looked at what’s called the price elasticity of water, and that is how much more do you need to charge for water to cause a certain percentage of conservation? And we actually implemented and adopted drought rates this past March and they’re tied to each different tier of the drought. So right now we’re at the level I tier pricing, which is supposed to invoke about an 8% conservation, and our board can choose to move up and each level of the drought adds on more to the price of water and that is supposed to invoke additional conservation. And I do know several agencies in town have gone that route.

CAVANAUGH: Now you’re talking primarily about the residential users, your residential and business users?

THORNER: Yes.

CAVANAUGH: Because agriculture, I know, has already had a huge cutback in the amount of water that they’ve allocated.

THORNER: Yeah, absolutely. The farmers were unfortunately the first ones to take the hit. Many farmers participated in Metropolitan’s what’s called an interruptible ag water program and in exchange for getting water at a discounted rate for years, they agreed to be the first ones to take the hit and, unfortunately, farmers across the county have had to take a 30% mandatory reduction in their water supply.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s take another phone call. Lisa is calling from Rancho Bernardo. Good morning, Lisa, and welcome to These Days.

LISA (Caller, Rancho Bernardo): Good morning. Thanks for taking my call. I had a question about, I guess, reporting water misuse in my development. I had fought with my association for about six months as to what we were allowed to put in our burned out front yard and in that whole situation, we had called to kind of report some misuse and just wondered if that was addressed? If people were fined? I was actually told by my board to kind of ignore the situation and just go ahead and keep watering. What do you think you’re going to get, a ticket? So I was just kind of wondering how that was addressed.

CAVANAUGH: Well, I think we heard from Chris a little bit on that. Kim, what exactly were the penalties for people besides, I guess, having an increase in their water rates.

THORNER: Well, the water use restrictions, generally the first violation is a warning and then subsequent violations are $100.00 penalties and then on up to about $500.00 penalties. We’ve been fortunate in so far as we’ve issued 441 violation letters. We have not yet had to issue any secondary penalties. But I would also add since she did mention this was an HOA, there is legislation about HOAs not being allowed to prohibit you from planting water wise plants in your yard. And I know historically HOAs have liked to keep everything green but there is now legislation, I believe it became effective January first, that states that HOAs can’t prohibit you from planting a water wise lawn.

CAVANAUGH: And, Chris, there – just because you don’t routinely issue penalties doesn’t mean there aren’t penalties included in these mandatory water restriction guidelines.

ROBBINS: That’s correct, and I talked about water waste complaints we got. And about 31 of them have been referred to our code compliance section and about 26 of those have subsequently gained compliance afterward once the code compliance officer showed up and interacted, the entities did gain compliance. There’s five that are basically pending. We’re waiting for them to change their habits and they may potentially, at some point, be issued either an administrative citation or a notice of violation and maybe issued a fine. But they still have some time to get theirself – get their situation resolved.

CAVANAUGH: We’re taking your calls about the mandatory water restrictions that went into effect this summer. 1-888-895-5727 is the number to call with your question or your comment. Let’s hear from Julie in Hillcrest. Good morning, Julie. Welcome to…

JULIE (Caller, Hillcrest): Hi.

CAVANAUGH: …These Days.

JULIE: Hi. Thank you. So my question is about power washers that I see when I’m driving through my neighborhood and several others, and it’s usually at nighttime. There’s businesses that have these high power washers out washing down the sidewalk, which seems like kind of an ineffective way to clean. And I’m wondering if, for one thing, is that a legal use of water? And it seems like if, you know, it’s also probably washing matter into the storm drain system that we don’t want. And, two, what can I do about it because if you – every time I see it, it’s late at night and so I’m sure there are no city staffers working late hours to contact the users of the power washers, and it just seems like a waste.

CAVANAUGH: Right.

JULIE: So I’m wondering if – are they legal? Or what can we do about that?

CAVANAUGH: Thank you for the question, Julie. Chris?

ROBBINS: That’s a really excellent question. I’m happy to take Julie’s question. There is rules against your hosing off your driveway and we’ve all kind of read that, and we know that deep down. But yet you see that from time to time. But the muni code within the city limits does allow you to wash down sidewalks for health or sanitation and we do get complaints from time to time, particularly around restaurants that are – have an outdoor area or down near the trolley tracks especially is a good location where there is going to be some food debris that’s going to get dropped and kind of get ground into the concrete. And if you think about it, there’s really not much else to use besides water to get it up. I suppose you could buy tons of 409 or something like that but then you’ve got that running into the storm drains. And the entities that are power washing are supposed to be recollecting the waste water, the runoff that comes from that and then taking it to a different location, typically like a drive-thru carwash where it can get cleaned and recycled out. So it does look pretty bad but the situation’s not as bad as what it initially seems to be when you first observe it.

CAVANAUGH: And, Kim, any restrictions on this in Olivenhain?

THORNER: Yeah, we do mirror the City of San Diego power washers not to be used unless they’re for health and safety, sanitary issues. We also highly recommend, and we grant exceptions for what are called water brooms. And they’re a conservation device that use a very minimal amount of water for cleaning up those health and sanitary issues.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s take another call. Shirley is calling from Encinitas. Good morning, Shirley. Welcome to These Days.

SHIRLEY (Caller, Encinitas): Good morning, and thanks so much for this discussion. It’s so important. And I’m wondering if there’s an ongoing discussion between the water districts and the various cities about future development until we have enough water for the demand.

CAVANAUGH: And a very interesting question, Shirley. Thank you.

SHIRLEY: Oh, and I have one other one.

CAVANAUGH: Okay.

SHIRLEY: And it’s just a comment, that I feel like there was a blast of media attention when the water conservation rules first went into effect when we knew that there was a problem. And I feel like there just isn’t enough ongoing reminders of how to conserve, ways to do it. There just isn’t enough education and media attention to it anymore and people get lax.

CAVANAUGH: Gotcha. I’ve got both of them. Thank you for your phone call, Shirley. Let’s take her first question, Chris. Is there anything that the City of San Diego is doing to keep the idea of new construction, new developments in the idea of water conservation? Is there any kind of crossover there?

ROBBINS: Yes, in fact there’s a water supply assessment that gets done when a development is over a certain size where the developer has to figure out where this new water’s going to come from. And what that typically means is they’ll have to provide some sort of an incentive to offset the increase in water usage, sometimes by setting up a different company or a different business to use recycled water on their landscaping to offset it so that there is no new additional water supply needed.

CAVANAUGH: I understand. And Kim?

THORNER: Yeah, Olivenhain actually has what’s called a demand offset program. When we moved to level II drought, our board said we’re not going to put mandatory water use restrictions on our existing customers and still set new meters…

CAVANAUGH: Umm-hmm.

THORNER: …and so they have a policy of no new meters right now, right now that we’re in level II unless the developer offsets the entire new water supply. And we do have a demand offset program that developers can participate in where we develop new water supply, new recycled water. Actually, we partner with the City of San Diego on that, and they can pay into this demand offset program so if anyone wants a new meter right now, they essentially either have to offset the entire demand or participate in our program.

CAVANAUGH: I’m glad, Chris, that you mentioned the fact that we are indeed still in a level II drought alert and that the summer water restrictions are still in effect through the month of October. But I want to ask you, Chris, what happens after October?

ROBBINS: Well, we currently have in the City of San Diego, a motion that’s going to be put forward to the city council to kind of review the existing municipal code and possibly implement some changes. It went through the Natural Resources and Culture Committee back on September 9th and they approved it and it’ll move forward to full council but we’re recommending based on feedback from outreach efforts with the community of some changes of some of the muni codes to change a few things that were a little difficult. We’ve found that potted plants are a little different than lawns in how much water they retain, so we’re kind of easing it on potted plants. We’re easing the restrictions on boat washing. Typically, when a boat owner pulls their boat out of the water, they want to rinse all the salt water off right then and there and not wait until after 6:00 p.m. to do it. So that’s just something that we’re easing. And then the current municipal code indicates that once we get to November first that you only get to irrigate one day per week, and we’re recommending rather than gearing it down that much, that it’ll still be your same three days that you have but instead of ten minutes per station, you’re going to have to reduce it to seven minutes per station. And that’s to try and keep that water consumption down but also keep that landscape alive.

CAVANAUGH: Okay, so as it stands right now as we sit here, when November rolls around, there’s – people are only supposed to water one day a week.

ROBBINS: That’s what the existing muni code says.

CAVANAUGH: But this is perhaps in the process of change now.

ROBBINS: Yes, it’s being routed as we speak and it should go before city council I think two Tuesdays from today, so maybe October 14th, if I’m getting it right or maybe October 16th.

CAVANAUGH: And, Kim, any changes on the horizon in Olivenhain?

THORNER: Yes, actually our board already took a vote. The County Water Authority’s been doing a great job being regional leaders to kind of guide all the agencies together, so you’re going to see similar things happening at many different agencies and we’ve all agreed we don’t want to be too reactionary. A few months of conservation are a great step – stepping stones towards a new water ethic but we are already seeing, you know, 18, 23% conservation and all of our ordinances had anticipated going to one day and I think what you’re going to see regionally, and Olivenhain has already voted on this, we’re just going to keep things as they are. We’re going to keep the three watering days through the winter. If we’re already seeing 18% conservation, that’ll continue if we stay at the three watering days. And so our board actually voted on September 9th to keep the ordinance as it is and not get more restrictive.

CAVANAUGH: Now what I read in doing some research is that some water districts have found that the cutbacks have been so profound that they are now losing money. Do you think that any of this change in the watering restrictions has to do because water restrictions aren’t actually making the money that they have to in order to cover their bills?

THORNER: Yeah, you know, it’s a double-edged sword being in the water industry. You want to provide as much water as possible; that’s your mission, to provide safe and reliable water. But yet you also have to conserve the resources and so the conservation departments are absolutely excited about this level of conservation. The finance department is very concerned because they budgeted for a certain amount of water sales, and that’s a balancing act that all of the agencies are going to have to do throughout this year. For Olivenhain, from our perspective, that’s why we have the rate stabilization fund so if we do get too much conservation, we have that so that we don’t have to increase rates additionally. You don’t want to punish your customers for conserving water…

CAVANAUGH: No.

THORNER: …when you ask them to.

CAVANAUGH: I tell you, this is the kind of thing that just makes people just slap their foreheads when they hear, you know, well, we’ve been doing a great job…

THORNER: Yeah.

CAVANAUGH: …but now, Chris, the water agencies are losing money and they’re going to have to figure out they’re going to survive.

ROBBINS: Luckily, the City of San Diego’s Water Department planned ahead and planned their budget for this year with about a 15% financial reduction and so expense-wise, we geared that down as well. So there was some foresight in planning this year.

CAVANAUGH: I want to ask you in closing, Chris, if you’re happy with the conservation effort so far?

ROBBINS: I am very pleased with everything that’s occurred at this point. The citizens have really taken it under their wing. It’s really – when you look at it, I work in Conservation, but it’s the people that really get it done. It’s the homeowners, it’s the businesses, it’s the landscape contractors that actually provide the savings that we’re looking for. So they participate in our programs but they have to carry it out, and it’s the people of this city, the people of this county that have done it.

CAVANAUGH: And do you have the water waste tipline number with you?

ROBBINS: Yeah. The – There’s several different places you can look for information. Dana mentioned it earlier, it’s the County Water’s – Water Authority’s Twenty Gallon Challenge, and that’s where people can get information on available rebates for commercial, industrial, irrigation, homeowners, whatever, multi-family. There’s devices that people can get rebates on that can help them save water. You can visit the City of San Diego’s website at sandiego.gov and see information on our No Time To Waste, No Water To Waste public information outreach program. I was really pleased. I was out front earlier and saw one of our buses go by with the big…

CAVANAUGH: Yes.

ROBBINS: …No Time To Waste, No Water To Waste…

CAVANAUGH: Right, right, right, right.

ROBBINS: …just go right in front of this building. Made my day.

CAVANAUGH: And I do want to let everyone know if you want to report water waste in San Diego, it’s 619-515-3500. Kim, I want to ask you, are you happy with the conservation effort so far?

THORNER: Yeah, absolutely. We’re really pleased with our customers’ response, actually couldn’t be happier. We hope that they continue to conserve through the winter. We hope that keeping the watering restrictions as they are is a reward for them. And just remind them that being a good water manager does not mean you have a brown lawn.

CAVANAUGH: Right. Kim Thorner is from Olivenhain Municipal Water District. Kim, thanks.

THORNER: Thank you very much for having us on this great topic.

CAVANAUGH: Chris Robbins is from the City of San Diego. Thank you so much for being here.

ROBBINS: It was my pleasure.

CAVANAUGH: Earlier in the conversation, I spoke with Dana Friehauf, she from the San Diego County Water Authority. And if you would like to post your comments about this segment, please do so online, KPBS.org/TheseDays. Stay with us. More of These Days is ahead in just a few moments.

Comments

Avatar for user 'GAPsquared'

GAPsquared | September 28, 2009 at 6:49 p.m. ― 4 years, 10 months ago

On the show today about how well water conservation is working in San Diego, there was a comment from one the guests about how water agencies are not-for-profit entities and that they pass the "costs" of acquiring and delivering water on to their customers. I question whether that comment is true.

What proportion of retail water rates are put into a fund that is accumulated to repair and replace the aging water transportation infrastructure from Northern to Southern California? How much goes to improve existing reservoirs and build new ones? Tens of billions of dollars need to be deployed to address these projects.

By passing along only the direct, short-range costs of water and pretending the indirect long-range costs of infrastructure maintenance and improvement are going to be funded by others, our water agencies are setting up Californians for disaster -- man made and acts of God. Regardless of the cause, millions of Californians' lives will forever change when levees in the central valley are breached, or the main aquaduct breaks or a dam or reservoir fails.

What will our water bureaucrats do to solve serious problems like these, how long will it take them and where will the funds come from? The truth is that San Diego's water fiefdoms and the county water authority are managed and staffed by "indecision makers". Their vacillation is driven by the desire to preserve the status quo, not offend anyone, and keep their jobs.

One of these days, however, the water delivery infrastructure will fail, the state won't be able to borrow the billions to fix it, the federal government will no longer be able to print the billions they'll be asked to provide and private capital will swoop in to fund the projects. In the process they will also displace the bureaucratic agencies with for-profit companies that will impose rates that will bring our wasteful ways -- and our ability to determine our own destiny -- to an end.

Instead of patting themselves on the back for asking for and receiving the support of San Diegans in achieving a short-term savings of 8% year over year this summer, our water agencies should be instilling in their constituencies a vision for how we can keep Southern California habitable (and affordable) for the next 10, 20, 30 years. I think San Diegans can achieve more water savings and will support incremental rate increases, if the case is made for such objectives.

But, alas, who will lead such an endeavor? Certainly not another committee of technocrats conjuring another watered down message!

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