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San Diego County Water Authority, Coastkeeper Trade Barbs Over Conservation

The Carlsbad Desalination Plant, the largest seawater desalination plant in the U.S., is shown in this aerial view, Sept. 4, 2015.
Associated Press
The Carlsbad Desalination Plant, the largest seawater desalination plant in the U.S., is shown in this aerial view, Sept. 4, 2015.

San Diego County Water Authority, Coastkeeper Trade Barbs Over Conservation
County Water Authority, Coastkeeper Trade Barbs Over Conservation GUESTS: Mark Weston, chair, San Diego County Water Authority Matt O’Malley, policy director, San Diego Coastkeeper

State water regulations are letting water districts to set their own conservation targets this year. A successful El Nino persuaded the regulators at state-mandated reductions of 25% are no longer warranted. This week the city of San Diego eased some of the drought restrictions. Should the water conservation goal for San Diego now go down to zero? A local environmental groups has since the state drought is ongoing, the County water Authority plan to ask for a zero conservation target is irresponsible. Joining me is Trent 12. Welcome to the program. Thank you for having a. Mark Weston is here. Mark, from the 25% state mandate down to 0% is a pretty big change. How do defend their decision to cut the mandatory water conservation goal to nothing? The states call with 25% originally San Diego score was 20%. Once we received credit from supplies that we had build through the plant it was reduced to 13% or go in fact our residents can respond and will reduce their usage on a voluntary matter rather than being mandated. Coast keeper is not happy with the plans. If we have the water why force people to conserve? The water is not just -- we lie -- rely on water. We are pulling from ecosystems that are deteriorated by us point one from them or go our biggest issue as far as voluntary versus Moneytree measures is we have seen in the past voluntary measures have not worked well as for saving water. During 2010 to 2014 we saw our water rates increase of the usage increase. We are looking at past trends continuing. We would actually expect that coming up. The water use will increase because that's what we have seen in the past. We hope it does not but we think that that sums up for failure. I believe the water authority tell you that we have adequate water for the next few years is at the reason for this bumping this down to zero? Yes, we have the dentistry to the state that we have three years of water supply under drought conditions, which we do have Iacovette is based on 25 years of holding new water supplies and encouraging widespread conservation. In our region, people use 40% less water % today than they did back in 1990. We have a lot of successes that we draw upon. What about the larger reality of how precious water is in our climate and considering climate change. Shouldn't that make some conservation goals per minute -- per minute? -- Per minute? We are seeing a change in the way that we use water. We were the leaders who have moved to more water efficient devices in homes, new landscape standards outside so we see our strategy of building water conservation into our lifestyle through a variety of long-term changes has been quite successful. To have always an emergency regulation mandate more and more conservation I think people start to lose the message and we think it is a better strategy to have a long-term more water wise use of -- or wise use of water in sending County. What about that, Matt, that overall approach to make sure that our lifestyles and the way that we use water continuously is decreased by a whole range of measures rather than just having a truck conservation mandated conservation target? Vivek I think the mandated conservation target worked and worked while during a drought which is ongoing. The drought is not over. We see it continuing. I don't think it is our opinion that we want to see restrictions that are mandatory other time. We are looking towards long-term conservation mandatory measures and want to explore what that looks like but keep in mind that during this drought no one suffered harshly or go we did not lose that quality of life that we have in San Diego and we still have areas where folks are using over $300 per capita per day. Met, it there was written that Sandiego has been addicted to water and that the water authority is trying to get hooked again. Is at the language that you see appropriate for this in other words do you see that there is any way that you can actually work with the water authority in order to make sure that the water usage doesn't go up again or do you think it is sort of adversarial kind of a thing? I do think there are ways that we can work together. One thing that became pretty clear to us during this whole process -- because they are so dependent on selling a certain amount of water to pay for infrastructure such as the plant. Unfortunately, the way the system is set up it is not in their best interest and the agencies interest to have us aggressively conserve because it is ways weights or have to lobby the state board to do away with regulations. There are some fundamental changes that they think we can work towards. There are still opportunities for things like messaging as far as landscaping and augmentation and adapting a local lifestyle. I think we have a certain amount of things were we see the same page but how we get there I think we have differences and will have to work through them. In this case was certainly were disappointed by how things turned out because we want to see much more of the demand-side management lead the way. Mark, for your point of view if the drought worsens, will it be difficult to get water users to go back to mandatory? I think we are seeing so many conservation being built into the lifestyle that people are much more water conscious. We don't see a likelihood of a great demand going up. What we do want to assure the customers is we want them to conserve but we also want to assure them that they have long-term water reliability for their businesses, homes, economy. We have 3.3 million people who depend on having water from the water authority. We take it very seriously and we want to make sure that they have the water that they need and Matt is correct. San Diego has done very well with the city. We do have areas that have large lots and the use more water than others. The Senegal region is a poster child for what the state expects in developing new water and conserving water that you have. I have been speaking with Trent 12. Thank you both so much. Thank you so much.

The San Diego City Council on Tuesday loosened some of its water restrictions, including limits on watering lawns, based on projections the city has enough water supply to weather continued drought.

The decision followed a similar move from the San Diego County Water Authority last month, which said it wouldn't impose mandatory water use cuts through the end of January. The region already has enough water to meet demand through three more years of drought, according to the Water Authority. The state imposed mandatory cuts over the past year, but is now allowing regional water agencies to stop mandatory conservation if they have enough water.

San Diego Coastkeeper attacked the Water Authority's decision in a Voice of San Diego editorial last week, arguing the agency was fighting to get the region "hooked" on water use.

"Why?" wrote Coastkeeper executive director Tracie Barham in the editorial. "It is the public agency that sells us our water; its member agencies bring in more money when we waste water and less money when we conserve water."

Water Authority chair Mark Weston responded Monday in his own editorial, calling Coastkeeper's argument "incomplete at best by only focusing on draconian water conservation measures."

Weston and Coastkeeper policy director Matt O'Malley join KPBS Midday Edition on Wednesday to continue the debate over San Diego water conservation efforts.