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KPBS Wants To Know: How Are You Saving Water During The Drought?

San Diego County Water Authority
A San Diego County yard after a water-wise yard makeover.
KPBS Wants To Know: How Are You Saving Water During The Drought?
How Are You Saving Water During The Drought? GUESTS:Halla Razak, director of the city of San Diego's Public Utilities Department Jason Foster, Public Outreach and Conservation Director with the San Diego County Water Authority

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: If we are lucky, we are headed into a rainy season that will ease San Diego drought conditions. But, many forecasters say we have such a large rain deficit, it is unlikely we will make up the difference this year. Water restrictions will probably stay in place indefinitely, or even get tougher. As the city of San Diego begins mandatory water restrictions, we decided to check in to see what wSan Diegans are doing to cut water use, and what local agencies are doing to track compliance. I would like to welcome my guests, Halla Razak and Jason Foster. Welcome back. HALLA RAZAK: Thank you, glad to be here. JASON FOSTER: Thank you for having me. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And we are taking calls from San Diegans who use the public insight network, to tell us how they are saving water. First, the city has new mandatory restrictions on water use, in effect mainly about outdoor water use. Briefly remind us what they are. HALLA RAZAK: Residents, starting November 1st, can water no more than three times a week. With hours restricted depending on time of year. Since we are in November, from 4 PM until 10 o'clock in the morning. They can only water not more than seven minutes per station. It depends on your address, which days you can water. Whether you are even, or an odd address. Also, if you are in an apartment or business the days change as well. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Is there a water conservation goal that the city is aiming for? A percentage? HALLA RAZAK: Right now, by going to the drought alert condition that we have, these are designed to lower water use. It's not a percentage it depends on where they live and the plot of land that they have, that is all different. Right now, we are concentrating on making sure that residences and businesses are following the rules. Right now, We are keeping track of water use and reporting it to the state. As time goes on, there may be other things that we need to be doing, but now we are just making sure that mandatory restrictions are being followed. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What about the county? Isn't there a goal of 20% water savings? JASON FOSTER: The governor has put out a call for 20% reduction statewide. But there are arts differences between different regions of the state. We are trying to do something similar to the city. We are trying to get people to save as much water as they can, to maximize storage reserves for 2015, if we have a fourth straight dry year. We do not have a percentage target. The region has already reduced water use 20% since 2007. We want to thank all of the resident businesses for a compass and that. What we need people to save more, because drought conditions are so extraordinary right now. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: How much water does the average household use each day in the city of San Diego? Do we know? HALLA RAZAK: On average we do. It depends on how many people live in the house. We are at about 130 gallons per day, per person, in San Diego. As Jason mentioned, that is substantially lower than 2007. About 55% of water use right now is outdoors. That is why the restrictions target watering and water use for irrigation outside the home. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Is there any projection as to how much water we should be using, as opposed to the amount we actually are? Are there any discussions going on about what the target maybe? HALLA RAZAK: There are discussions going on at the state level. You can imagine how difficult it is to decide that whether you live in San Francisco, Riverside, or San Diego. Discussions are ongoing. Right now, we are concentrating on making sure water use drops by making sure that the residences follow restrictions for outside use. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I heard a figure people were looking at of 55 gallons per day per person. That is one of the things under discussion. I'm wondering, do you think people have any idea what kind of water use that means? 55 gallons per day per person, what you would be able to do? JASON FOSTER: There have been statewide discussions about that level for a basic health and safety allotment for water. But really, that is an amount of water that is essential for basic cooking, cleaning, showering, and hygiene. Right now, the regional average for water use per person, not just residentially, it counts for the book and commercial use, that's 161 gallons per person, per day. We are down from 211 gallons per person, per day, from seven years ago. The region, the city, and everyone has done great strides in improving efficiency. There is room to grow, and we have seen a great response from the public in taking steps to save more water indoors and out. We have had year-over-year reductions in August and September. We are hoping to see that continue in October. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: As I said at the beginning of this, we had some people response to our questions on the public insight network on how they are saving water. Some San Diegans responded. One of them is on the line with us now. John Reeves joins us. How are you saving water? NEW SPEAKER: First, we have to minimize use and maximize reuse. We are in a Mediterranean climate. Climate change will make things drier and hotter. We have to be really smart. One way that I am doing it, I am using gray water from the shower. My wife and I probably use about 30 gallons per day that is now directed towards a strip of food producing plants, citrus, dairy, and grapes. They are taking care of mostly by way water. We use organic products in order to maximize the appeal to the plants. We also have our close washer directed to sculpted out areas with mulch in the front yard where the palm trees are. That probably produces around 30 gallons of water per week that satisfies those lands. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That sounds great, thank you for letting us know that. Let's talk about graywater, and how people put that into effect. HALLA RAZAK: Some systems are easier to connect than others. If you are only connecting a washing machine to an outside system, that does not include pumping or connections to potable water, you can do that without having a permit. There are excellent resources that the listeners can find online when they go on the city website to figure out how to do that. There are more collocated systems where you have several things connected. Washbasins, bathtubs and so on. It is an excellent way to conserve water. I definitely applaud the listener for doing a great job he is doing. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: It may involve upfront costs in order to put a system like this, or do other things that may save water. Drip irrigation or something like that. Tell us why it is worth that investment. JASON FOSTER: Basically we have talked about the majority of water use, that happens in the residential household, happens outdoors. It is more than half. That is where we think the best potential for additional savings is. Savings can range depending on what you do with the irrigation systems. You can cut water use anywhere between 20% to 50% depending on how extensive the system is. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That is every year? JASON FOSTER: That is every month of every year. That starts savings in terms of water, over time. That is what we want to see in this region. A switch to a sustainable lifestyle, not just in times of drought. We live in a Mediterranean climate. We are at the end of a couple of very large pipelines. We depend on imported water for a lot of supply. It is expensive to develop new local supply. Making the most out of every drop, especially outdoors, it has a personal and regional management benefit as well. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Another caller is going to tell us about the way he conserves water in the shower. Welcome to the program. NEW SPEAKER: Good afternoon. Just a quick easy way that everyone can save water is just take a 5 gallon bucket, while you are waiting for hot water to heat up in the shower, fill up the bucket. Then you have water for plants, for a fish tank, washing dishes, around the house, the most conservation starts in the bathroom. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I appreciate that, thank you for calling in. The county has just launched the when in drought campaign. Is this strictly awareness, or other programs to help San Diegans conserve? JASON FOSTER: It is certainly raising awareness of the drought conditions. We need to increase conservation. We have a number of programs available regionally to help people save water. They are available indoors and out, and you can get rebates on highly efficient close washers indoors. And outdoors, we have a turf replacement rebate program that offers $1.50 per square foot. There are additional rebates that can add another two dollars per square foot on top of that. That is a tremendously popular program. We have seen the demand for turf replacement rebates go up 10 fold this year. We are looking at more grant funding to offer that program in the coming months. We have seen beautiful landscapes go in and a lot of people realize the advantage of that. We want that to continue to be a long-term trend, not just drought response. We want more landscapes in the region that are climate appropriate. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We have another caller on the line. Gary uses rain barrels. Tell us about that. NEW SPEAKER: Thank you for asking. It has been a fun project. The little bit of rain that we had the last weekend, less than half an edge and I got 250 gallons in my barrels that I use for watering fruit trees, rosebushes, and whatnot. If I had bought those barrels, it would have cost me $250 or more, which is not exactly cheap water. I volunteer while cleaning up the San Diego. I found some barrels that somebody tossed down the bank, I cleaned them up and painted them and the rent kids helped with the project. It was fun. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Total conservation, thank you Gary, that is great. Is the city of San Diego have a rebate program for installing rain barrels? HALLA RAZAK: We absolutely do, I like the listeners idea. To recycling, finding and repurposing something. We in fact offer a one dollar per gallon barrel storage capacity for rainwater harvesting. Up to 400 gallons. A listener can get up to $400 rebate, if they get a big enough barrel. We definitely have that on our website as well. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: People we are hearing from are obviously taking action to conserve water. But there are folks in businesses that continue to wastewater. What will the city be doing about water wasters? HALLA RAZAK: We are getting a lot of complaints. We are getting a lot of calls, and we have launched an application both on the iPhone and the android, waste no water. It is free. Residents can download that and help us by letting us know if water waste is going on. What we do, once we receive a plane, we send a letter letting the property owner know about the violation. Almost always, these complaints are taking care of because people simply did not know that there is a sprinkler broken or water running into the street. We were in this situation last time in 2009, we stayed under these conditions for two years and only issued one violation with a fine. Residents are really interested in not wasting water or money. You end up paying for that water. It is an educational process that we go through. So, I encourage everybody to download the app, and help educate everybody so we do not waste water. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We have to end it now. I am out of time, but I want to let people know that city and County water officials will be looking at our website. They will be monitoring our website and answering questions. If you have questions, post them on our website about saving water at KPBS.org. Thank you both very much.

When In Drought

Find out more about water use restrictions in your area by visiting the San Diego County Water Authority's web site.

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If we're lucky, San Diego could be headed into a rainy season that will ease California's drought conditions. But many forecasters say the state's rain deficit is so large, it's unlikely we'll make up the difference this year. So, state, county and city water restrictions will probably stay in place indefinitely — or even get tougher.

As the City of San Diego begins mandatory water restrictions, KPBS Midday Edition decided to check in with San Diegans to see how they're cutting back on their water use... and how local agencies will track their compliance.

Some members of KPBS' Public Insight Network have already shared their water-saving strategies.

Roger Coppock, a retired computer scientist who lives in San Diego, said he discovered a leak while remodeling his bathroom.

"It probably leaked a gallon or so a day, maybe for decades," Coppock said. "We're going to have to fill in the yard-long 'underground river' to the sewer with gravel and cement."

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He recommends calling a plumber if you have unexplained water usage, and having them check for hidden leaks.

"I built a 300 gallon rain barrel system out of scrapped barrels and use it to water our fruit trees and roses," said Gary Strawn, Santee resident and member of the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board. "It lasted through August this year."

Aaron Kaufman, who works in customer service and lives in South Park, said, "When waiting for hot water to heat up for shower I fill 5gal buckets with the cold water. While in shower, I get wet, turn off water, lather up, and then rinse. Easily saves 30+ gallons by not constantly running water."

What are you doing to save water? Leave a comment below or to join the conversation.

KPBS Wants To Know: How Are You Saving Water During The Drought?