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Report: San Diegans Used More Water Despite Drought

A map showing average daily consumption per resident for fiscal year 2014. The map shows that the City of San Diego has an average daily consumption between 64 and 90 gallons per resident. Ramona and Lakeside was 91 to 109 gallons, while Valley Center was 152 to 504 gallons.
Equinox Center
A map showing average daily consumption per resident for fiscal year 2014. The map shows that the City of San Diego has an average daily consumption between 64 and 90 gallons per resident. Ramona and Lakeside was 91 to 109 gallons, while Valley Center was 152 to 504 gallons.

Report: San Diegans Used More Water Despite Drought
Report: San Diegans Used More Water Despite Drought GUESTS:Ray Ellis, board chair, Equinox CenterMarsi Steirer, deputy director,Public Utilities Department at the City of San Diego

OUR TOP STORY ON MIDDAY EDITION ALTHOUGH SAN DIEGO'S ARE BEING URGED TO USE THE US WATER SURVEY SHOW WE ARE NOT. THE NONPROFIT EQUINOX CENTER FINDS THAT LAST YEAR COUNTY RESIDENTS USED MORE WATER THAN ANY OF THE PREVIOUS FOUR YEARS. AS WE APPARENTLY INJURE ANOTHER YEAR OF SEVERE DROUGHT CONDITIONS, THE EQUINOX AND ANALYSIS PRESENTS REASONS WHY WE'RE NOT CONSERVING ENOUGH AND OFFER RECOMMENDATIONS. JOINING ME ARE RAY ELLIS BOARD CHAIR OF THE EQUINOX CENTER. WELCOME TO THE PROGRAM. THANK YOU FOR HAVING US. AND MARCY STIER IS DEPUTY DIRECTOR OF THE CITY OF SAN DIEGO PUBLIC UTILITIES DEPARTMENT. WELCOME TO THE PROGRAM. THANK YOU. IN A WAY, IT MAKES SENSE THAT WATER USE IS UP CONSIDERING WE HAVE HAD VERY LITTLE RAIN. ISN'T THERE A CORRELATION? THERE ARE NUMBER OF FACTORS AND OBVIOUSLY RAINFALL IS A TREMENDOUS IMPACT SINCE MOST OF OUR WATER IS BEING USED IN LANDSCAPE UTILIZATION. RIGHT. HOW MUCH HAS WATER USAGE GONE UP? APPROXIMATELY 4% PER YEAR STARTING WITH THE FIRST YEAR PRIVATE -- FIVE YEARS AGO WHEN WE FIRST WENT INTO IT. THERE WAS ONE YEAR WE ACTUALLY DECREASED AND THERE WAS A DIRECT CORRELATION BETWEEN DECREASE AND HER RAINFALL IN 2011. ARE THESE COUNTYWIDE NUMBERS? YES. COVERED BY THE COUNTY WATER. WHAT ABOUT THE CITY OF SAN DIEGO REX THE CITY OF SAN DIEGO TRACKED ALONG THE SAME WAY. SO, THE WATER USAGE INCREASE DURING THE YEARS? I SHOULD SAY TO OTHERS DID THE BEST OUT OF THE YEARS WE TOOK A LOOK AT. INCLUDING SWEETWATER AND ESCONDIDO. WHO IS USING THE MOST? COMMERCIAL RESIDENTIAL? RESIDENTIAL INCLUDING SINGLE-FAMILY AND MULTIFAMILY HOMES USES 60% TOTAL USAGE. BUT THERE ARE OTHER CATEGORIES AS WELL. YOU SAID THE CITY OF SAN DIEGO AND ESCONDIDO ARE ON THE LOWER END. WHO IS ON THE UPPER END? ACCORDING TO OUR NUMBERS, SANTA FE IRRIGATION DISTRICT, RAINBOW MUNICIPAL WATER DISTRICT, AND THE VALLEY CENTER. WHAT ACCOUNTS FOR THAT? THERE ARE A LOT OF THINGS. THE FIRST TIME A REPORT HAS EVER BEEN DONE IS THIS ONE. THERE ARE SCENARIOS WE DISCOVER THAT WE CAN IMPROVE ON GOING FORWARD. ONE OF THEM IS CLEARLY DEFINING THE CATEGORIES. WHETHER IT'S AGRICULTURAL, MULTIFAMILY, SINGLE-FAMILY, INDUSTRIAL USE. THAT MAY IMPACT NUMBERS BASED ON WHERE THEY ARE IN THE COUNTY. I THINK WE HAVE TO TAKE THAT WITH A GRAIN OF SALT. BUT IT IS A START. ARE YOU SAYING THAT THERE ISN'T ANY KIND OF EXPECTED LEVEL OF WATER USED FOR A RESIDENTIAL CUSTOMER AS OPPOSED TO SOMEONE WHO IS IN AGRICULTURE? TO MY KNOWLEDGE, I OWE YOU MANY SPECIFIC TARGET. ONE OF OUR TOP RECOMMENDATIONS IS TO TAKE A LOOK AT THESE METRICS AND GET THEM CONSISTENT BETWEEN THE DIFFERENT DISTRICTS AND THE DIFFERENT USERS SO THAT WE CAN CLEARLY COMMUNICATE THEM AND BENCHMARK THEM AND MEASURE THOSE. CUSS AT EQUINOX, WE BELIEVE IF YOU MEASURE AND SHARE THAT DATA WITH POLICYMAKERS, MEDIA, CONSUMERS, THAT YOU WILL GET A BETTER OUTCOME. HOW DOES THE EQUINOX CENTER COMPILE THIS DATA? YOU DO IT LOT OF PUBLIC RECORDS REQUEST. WE WENT THROUGH AND ANALYZED DATA AVAILABLE. WE HAVE A GROUP OF RESEARCH FELLOWS THAT WE BRING IN SPECIFIC TO POLICY PAPERS LIKE THIS AND A STAFF. IT PROBABLY TOOK US IN THE RANGE OF FOUR MONTHS TO PUT TOGETHER THE FULL REPORT. WHY IS YOUR GROUP DOING THIS INSTEAD OF OUR WATER AGENCIES OR WATER DISTRICT? WE FEEL IT IS VERY IMPORTANT AND IT WAS NOT BEING DONE. WATER IS A TOP PRIORITY WITH THE EQUINOX CENTER. OUR MISSION IS TO MAKE SURE SAN DIEGO HAS A HEALTHY ENVIRONMENT AND VIBRANT ECONOMY. WE WANT TO BLEND THOSE TWO AND WE BELIEVE WATER IS A CRITICAL PART IN MAKING THAT HAPPEN. THAT IS WHY THIS IS AN AREA THAT WE THINK WE NEED TO SHINE A LIGHT ON TO GET MORE INFORMATION TO FOLLOW. ONE OF THE AGENCIES WITH THE LOWEST AVERAGE RESIDENCY CONSUMPTION IS SAN DIEGO. BUT USAGE IS UP. SO AFTER ALL OF THE CITY'S EFFORTS TO PROMOTE CONSERVATION, DOES THAT SURPRISE YOU? THE CITY FOCUSED ON RESIDENTIAL CONSUMPTION AND THAT ACCOUNTS FOR ABOUT 54% OF OUR TOTAL WATER SALES BY VOLUME. I THINK THAT PARTIALLY THE REASON IT WAS UP IS YOUR EARLIER QUESTION THAT YOU ASKED ABOUT THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN WEATHER AND RAIN AND CONSUMPTION. WE THINK THAT THAT IS A BIG FACTOR. OR THOSE OF YOUR LISTENERS THAT LIVED HERE ALL OF LAST YEAR, WE KNOW THAT THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE INDICATED THAT IT WAS THE HOTTEST YEAR ON RECORD. I THINK THAT THAT IS A REALLY BIG DRIVER. I WOULD SAY THAT OVERALL, WE ARE VERY PROUD OF OUR CITY RESIDENTS AND THEIR OVERALL VIEW OF CONSUMPTION OF WATER AND CONSIDERING CONSERVATION TO BE A WAY OF LIFE. ONE ALSO INTERESTING FIGURE THAT WE SHARE WITH OUR CUSTOMERS WHEN WE ARE OUT MAKING COMMUNITY PRESENTATIONS IS THAT DESPITE A POPULATION INCREASE OF ABOUT. TO -- 52%, WE ARE STILL USING THE SAME AMOUNT OF WATER. THAT IS A LARGE FACTOR. POPULATION INCREASE. THAT YOU HAVE TO TAKE INTO ACCOUNT AS WELL. JUST GOING ON WHAT YOU'RE JUST SAYING, IT'S THE WATER IN SAN DIEGO PUBLIC UTILITIES DEPARTMENT THE PEOPLE WHO DEAL WITH WATER IN SAN DIEGO, ARE YOU THINKING ABOUT STRATEGIES OF CONSERVING EVEN IF IT'S HOT? EVEN IF WE GET SO VERY LITTLE RAINFALL TO BRING THOSE NUMBERS DOWN? YES, WE HAVE BEEN WORKING ON BOTH AT THE COUNTY LEVEL WITH OTHER AGENCIES AS WELL AS INTERNALLY DEVELOPING STRATEGY. I WOULD SAY THAT OUR CUSTOMERS ARE IN LARGE NUMBERS REALLY INTERESTED IN HAVING A TOOLSET TO WHICH BY WHICH THEY CAN LOWER THEIR CONCEPTION. THERE IS A LOT OF INFORMATION ON OUR WEBSITE. WASTE NO WATER.ORG. THERE ARE SPECIFIC PROGRAMS THAT YOU CAN PARTICIPATE IN AS WELL AS A STATUS OF THE VARIOUS REBATE PROGRAMS. WE HAVE A LARGE AMOUNT OF FUNDS THAT WAS BOTH GRANT FUNDS AS WELL AS OTHER SOURCES OF FUNDING FOR A VARIOUS REBATE PROGRAMS FOR TARP REPLACEMENT AND SO FORTH AND JUST TO LET YOU KNOW, THE INTEREST THAT WAS GENERATED, WE HAD AS MUCH INTEREST IN THIS PROGRAM AND APPLICATION IN ONE MONTH THAT WAS LATE LAST YEAR AS WE HAVE THE PREVIOUS THREE YEARS. I THINK IT WAS THE WEATHER BUT ALSO THE DROUGHT AND MESSAGING THAT OUR CUSTOMERS WERE RECEIVING AND THEY ARE MAKING A CONCERTED EFFORT TO CHANGE THE USE OF WATER WITH OUTDOOR PROGRAMS. MESSAGING IS ONE OF THE RECOMMENDATIONS THAT THE EQUINOX CENTER MAKES. LET ME PROPOSE THIS. I REMEMBER LAST YEAR WHEN GOVERNOR JERRY BROWN URGED STATEWIDE CONSERVATION GOALS OF 20%. SAN DIEGO WATER AUTHORITY AND SAID VEHICLE OFFICIALS SAID WE DON'T NEED TO DO THAT. WE HAVE ALREADY CONSERVED ENOUGH WATER. OUR RESERVOIRS ARE FULL. THAT OF COURSE CHANGED AS THE YEAR WENT ON. BUT IS THAT THE KIND OF INCONSISTENT MESSAGING ABOUT WATER CONSERVATION THAT YOUR REPORT IS CRITICIZING? I DON'T KNOW IF IT'S CRITICIZING. WE ARE SUGGESTING A BETTER AND MORE CONSISTENT MESSAGING FROM THE STATE DOWN TO THE LOCAL USERS AS AN AREA WE CAN IMPROVE ON. HOW CAN WE IMPROVE ON THAT BUT I THINK KEEPING THAT MESSAGE STEADY, KEEPING IT CONSISTENT. USING THE SAME LANGUAGE AND REALLY LOOKING AT IT FROM A MARKETING PERSON EFFECTIVE -- PERSPECTIVE TO EDUCATE PEOPLE IN THE COMMUNITY. BUT I THINK MAKING IT MORE CONSISTENT, STAYING ON THAT POINT IS VERY CRITICAL. THIS IS AN ISSUE THAT WILL STICK WITH US FOR YEARS TO COME. IT WILL NOT GO AWAY WITH EVEN MAKE FEW YEARS OF GOOD RAIN. WHAT ARE SOME OTHER RECOMMENDATIONS ABOUT CONSERVATION IN YOUR REPORT? WE THINK WE CAN FIRST OF AUGUST THE DATA CONSISTENT SO THAT WE HAVE GOOD COMPARISONS AND THEN MAKE THAT DATA MORE AVAILABLE. THERE IS NOT IN THE REAL-TIME AVAILABLE USAGE FIGURE UNLESS YOU GO AND LOOK AT YOUR METER. YOU CANNOT GO TO A WEBSITE LIKE YOU CAN WITH A LOT OF ENERGY USERS AND TAKE A LOOK AT EXACTLY HOW MUCH YOU ARE USING. SO YOU CAN DETECT A LEAK OR SOMETHING LIKE THAT THAT MIGHT BE GOING ON. THAT IS ANOTHER RECOMMENDATION. THOSE ARE THINGS TO LOOK AT. RIGHT. EXACTLY. TELL US AGAIN WHAT THE CORRELATION IS BETWEEN GETTING THIS ACCURATE DATA AND ACTUALLY SEEING WATER CONSERVATION INCREASE? THAT IS A HUGE AREA. CONSERVATION STILL ARE OUR BEST RETURN ON INVESTMENT. AGAIN, APPROXIMATELY 60% IS USED IN THE HOME AND 50% OF THAT IS USED IN LANDSCAPES. LANDSCAPE, JUAN REPLACEMENT, DROUGHT TOLERANT PLANTS, MAKING SURE YOUR SYSTEM IS WORKING APPROPRIATELY. SO MUCH TECHNOLOGY IS TAKING PLACE THAT IF WE CAN PUT THOSE TO GOOD USE, WE SHOULD HAVE A GOOD IMPACT. ISN'T IT THE IDEA THAT CONSUMERS OF WATER SEE HOW MUCH THEY ARE USING, HOW MUCH THEIR NEIGHBORS ARE USING? I MUCH THEIR CITY IS USING AS OPPOSED TO HOW MUCH THEIR TARGET CONSERVATION GOAL IS? IF THEY CAN SEE THAT ON A WEBSITE OR SOMETHING, THAT WILL MOTIVATE PEOPLE TO TAKE THESE MEASURES? TO CUT BACK ON WATER USE? WE FEEL VERY STRONGLY THAT THAT WILL HELP. MERCY SHARED WITH ME BEFORE WE CAME IN AT THE CITY IS LOOKING VERY SHORT-TERM TO BE CHANGING THEIR BILLING. SO THEY GET AN OPPORTUNITY TO SEE HOW THEY COMPARE TO LAST YEAR VERY GRAPHICALLY A CHEESIER THAN WHAT IS ON THE BILLS NOW. AND ALSO TO COMPARE HOW YOU ARE DOING VERSUS YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD. SO THOSE ARE SOME GOOD METRICS FOR PEOPLE TO USE AND SHOULD BE HOPEFULLY VERY MOTIVATIONAL. BECAUSE YOU SEE ON YOUR SG&A BILL EVERY MONTH WHAT YOU USED THE MONTH BEFORE. IS THAT THE KIND OF THING YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT? YES. AND THIS IS JUST BEING LAUNCHED SO OUR CUSTOMERS WILL BE SEEN THAT IN THEIR UPCOMING BILL AND THERE IS AN INSERT THAT EXPLAINS THAT. THEY WILL SEE FOR EXAMPLE THEIR USAGE FOR THE CURRENT YEAR VERSUS THE PREVIOUS YEAR AS WELL AS INDICATIONS OF HOW THEIR NEIGHBORS ARE DOING. IT'S VERY GRAPHIC AND MUCH EASIER TO READ THAN JUST HAVING A LOT OF DATA ON THE SHEET. WILL YOU BE ABLE TO SEE IF YOUR WATER CONSUMPTION IS HIGHER THAN A LOT OF YOUR NEIGHBORS? RED FLAGS? MAYBE THERE IS SOMETHING WRONG? IT TELLS YOU WHAT THE AVERAGE USE OF OTHER CUSTOMERS IN YOUR AREA IS. AND THEN YOU KNOW WHAT YOU ARE SO YOU WILL KNOW IF YOU ARE LOW OR HIGH. THE CITY OF SAN DIEGO HAS A FREE PROGRAM AIMED AT HELPING WATER CUSTOMERS CONSERVE? IT'S CALLED THE ONE-ON-ONE ASSESSMENT. TELL US ABOUT THAT. WE HAVE, DEPENDING ON IF YOUR RESIDENTIAL OR MULTIFAMILY OR COMMERCIAL OR INDUSTRIAL, WE HAVE SURVEY PROGRAMS WHERE AN INDIVIDUAL COMES OUT TO YOUR RESIDENCE OR BUSINESS AND WALK THROUGH WATER USAGE. SHOWS YOU HOW TO READ YOUR METER. HE DOES AN EVALUATION INDOORS AND OUTDOORS AND PROVIDE YOU AT THE END WITH AN IRRIGATION SCHEDULE FOR YOUR IRRIGATION. OKAY. ALL OF THIS INFORMATION IS AVAILABLE TO PARTICIPATE IN THESE PROGRAMS ON OUR WEBSITE. ALL RIGHT. REPORT HAS ALREADY HAD AN IMPACT, RIGHT? AND THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT WE ARE YOU LOOKING FOR. WE WANT TO MAKE SURE THAT THE NUMBERS AND METRICS ARE OUT THERE SO THAT POLICYMAKERS AND DECISION-MAKERS CAN FACTOR THAT IN AND THAT WE ARE NOT OPERATING UNDER FALSE THE TENSES. SOME COMMUNITIES HAVE FOUND THAT REAL CONSERVATION DOES NOT BEGIN TO KICK IN UNTIL THE PRICE WATER GETS HER. OR THERE ARE PENALTIES FOR USING OVER A CERTAIN AMOUNT OF WATER AND THOSE PENALTIES ARE STEEP ENOUGH TO HURT. SHOULD SAN DIEGO BEGIN CONSIDERING THAT KIND OF WATER PRICE STRUCTURE LIKE --? THOSE ARE UP TO THE POLICYMAKERS. WE'RE NOT MAKING RECOMMENDATIONS ON THOSE TYPES OF THINGS THAT WE WANT TO MAKE SURE THEY HAVE THE DATA. CERTAINLY A PRICING STRUCTURE THAT BETTER REFLECTS USAGE IS GOING TO HAVE AN IMPACT. MERCY, IS THIS ONE OF THE THINGS THAT THE WATER DEPARTMENT IS PERHAPS FLOATING? IN ITS STRATEGIES ACTUALLY, THE LAST TIME THE SKINNY -- CITY COUNCIL WENT FORWARD TO HAVE A RATE ADJUSTMENT, WE DID END UP HAVING ADDITIONAL FOURTH TIER FOR FAMILY CUSTOMERS. SO THE MORE YOU USE, THE MORE YOU PAY. I THINK THAT WAS IMPLEMENTED ABOUT 14 MONTHS AGO. YOU DEAL WITH THIS ALL THE TIME AND YOU HEAR FROM WATER CUSTOMERS. WHAT WOULD YOU CHARACTERIZE THE GENERAL ATTITUDE OF SAN DIEGO AND? ARE THEY ON BOARD WITH THIS? DO THEY WANT TO CONSERVE? DO THEY JUST NEED TO KNOW A LITTLE BIT MORE? HOW DO YOU DO IT? I DO THINK THAT THEY ARE ON BOARD. EVERY TIME I TALK TO CUSTOMERS, EVERYONE HAS A STORY ABOUT WHAT THEY HAVE DONE. I THINK SOMETIMES THEY ARE A LITTLE PERPLEXED BECAUSE THEY THINK THEY HAVE DONE EVERYTHING AND THEY DON'T KNOW HOW TO GET THAT EXTRA INCREMENT OF SAVINGS. WE OFFER THESE FRIDAY OF PROGRAMS TO ASSIST THEM AND PROVIDE THEM WITH MORE KNOWLEDGE TO GET TO A POSITION OR IT IS POSSIBLE FOR THEM TO SAVE MORE. RATE, -- RATE -- WOULD YOU LIKE PEOPLE TO GO ONLINE AND READ THIS TO FIND OUT MORE ABOUT IT. EQUINOX · ART. TAKE A LOOK AT THE REPORT AND DOWNLOAD IT. IT SHOULD BE LOADED UP NOW. TERRIFIC. I HAVE BEEN SPEAKING WITH RAY ELLIS WITH EQUINOX CENTER AND ARE CEASE-FIRE WITH THE CITY OF SAN DIEGO PUBLIC UTILITIES DEPARTMENT. INC. YOU BOTH VERY MUCH. THANK YOU.

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More than a year ago, Gov. Jerry Brown called on all Californians to cut their water use by 20 percent. New numbers show San Diego County residents didn't.

A study by the nonprofit Equinox Center in San Diego shows more water was used in the county in 2014 than in any of the previous four years. The analysis looks at where conservation efforts need improvement and offers some recommendations.

The researchers reviewed usage in 22 water districts under the jurisdiction of the San Diego County Water Authority. Ray Ellis, board chair of the center, said it took about four months to compile the information through public records requests.

"We believe that if you measure it, and you share the data with policy makers, the media and consumers, that you'll get a better outcome," Ellis told KPBS Midday Edition on Tuesday. "We feel it's very important and it wasn't being done. Our mission is that San Diego has a healthy environment and a vibrant economy."

A graphic showing the average annual residential water consumption per resident versus the rainfall for that year. The graphic shows decreasing rainfall and increasing water consumption from 2011 to 2014.
Equinox Center
A graphic showing the average annual residential water consumption per resident versus the rainfall for that year. The graphic shows decreasing rainfall and increasing water consumption from 2011 to 2014.
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In fiscal 2011, when 13 inches of rain fell at Lindbergh Field, the average resident used just over 30,000 gallons. The total went up to nearly 31,000 gallons, 32,000 gallons and about 33,500 gallons in subsequent years, according to the study. The time period for the study followed a previous drought in which San Diegans cut back on consumption.

While the countywide water use average rose, the increase was greater at some individual agencies. The Equinox Center reported that water use surged 30 percent between fiscal 2011 to 2014 at the Santa Fe Irrigation District, which serves Fairbanks Ranch, Rancho Santa Fe and Solana Beach; 19 percent in Ramona; and 17 percent in Poway.

In that same period, however, consumption dropped 21 percent in the far North County community of Rainbow, 14 percent in Olivenhein and 12 percent at the Sweetwater Authority, which serves Bonita, National City and parts of Chula Vista.

Broken down by daily use by residential customers, Sweetwater customers consumed the least water in the most recent fiscal year — 64 gallons. The city of San Diego was second at 73 gallons, according to the study.

SD County Residential Water Use Trends
Equinox Center analysis: San Diego County Residential Water Use Trends, February 2015
To view PDF files, download Acrobat Reader.

The most water used in the last fiscal year was in the Santa Fe Irrigation District, where customers averaged 504 gallons a day. Officials with the agency have said they are on track to meet state water-use mandates.

The report made the following recommendations:

• Water agencies should use consistent definitions of customer classes and collect usage for each of those customer classes.

• Water usage data by customer class should be posted on water agency websites as frequently as possible and not less than quarterly, for customers, researchers and the media.

• The effectiveness of water conservation and efficiency campaigns should be monitored using quantitative and qualitative metrics. Those metrics should be made available to the public.

• Water agencies should maximize the opportunity to cost effectively present current data and conservation resources to their customers by making the information available on their websites.

• Effective conservation messaging should be relatively consistent, from the state all the way down to local member agencies (recognizing that some messaging will be customized for specific audiences).

Report: San Diegans Used More Water Despite Drought

Corrected: December 8, 2022 at 5:43 AM PST
City News Service contributed to this report.
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