When we need it most, the San Diego County Water Authority has slashed our mandatory conservation targets from 25 percent to zero. Why? The Water Authority 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.
We called them out in the Voice of San Diego, detailing why mandatory conservation measures are imperative for our future, and why the Water Authority is working against the region’s best interest. You can read the full piece here, “San Diego Water Authority Is Pretending The Drought Is Over; It’s Not.”
The San Diego County Water Authority published a response.
First, the Water Authority claims that, thanks to its work pushing voluntary conservation, not mandatory, San Diego County has lowered our water use significantly, “nearly 40 percent between 1990 and 2015.” While these are great strides we’ve made as a region, it’s more useful to look at our water savings in times of greatest need.
Does Voluntary Conservation Work? Not nearly enough.
What about the time when it really matters? Did voluntary conservation measures in our last drought lower water use?
As the Equinox Center points out in its February 2015 H20verview, “between fiscal years 2010 and 2014 (the study period), San Diego County Water Authority’s (SDCWA) member agencies experienced a four percent (4%) increase in annual average residential water consumption on a per resident basis. … A SDCWA-wide decrease in overall water consumption per resident only surfaced one year during the study period: FY 2011. This was also the same year within the study period with the highest annual precipitation, as measured at San Diego’s Lindbergh Field.”
Water agencies love to highlight that water use since 1990 has gone down, but water use increased during the drought. It wasn’t until the Governor forced mandatory restrictions did we see significant water savings.
Now the Water Authority, with its move back to a zero percent conservation target, has put us back in the voluntary conservation measures that lasted from June 2014 to June 2015. These voluntary restrictions did not achieve significant savings. It’s the reason why the state of California forced us into mandatory conservation. See the graph below for the difference between voluntary and mandatory Gallons Per Capita per day for the water authority member agencies. Mandatory water conservation began in June of 2015.
Also, let’s not forget how in 2014 and early 2015, before the mandatory restrictions, we had to beg the cities to do real enforcement of existing rules. Remember the “water vigilante” stories? We made international headlines when the City’s complete lack of enforcement drove us to travel the streets recording evidence of water waste ourselves.
The Water Authority also touts the “diversification” and drought-resilience of San Diego County Water Authority’s supply portfolio as reason for letting go of mandatory conservation, specifically Poseidon’s desalination plant and the “conservation-and-transfer” agreements with Imperial County. But desalination is by far the most expensive, energy-inefficient water supply option available. Why have we spent $1 billion on a last-resort option when conservation offers so much more for so much less. The water transfers the Water Authority celebrates as “landmark” haven’t increased the diversity of our water supply, it’s the same water from our dwindling Colorado River supply, but from a different middle-man. You can’t stick two straws in the same glass and call it diverse.
This is what happens when a public agency, who survives off the sale of water, is tasked with setting water conservation mandates.
In Washington Post’s, “Why California’s local governments can’t manage their water — and why Jerry Brown’s proposal could help” Megan Mullin sums up the Water Authority’s response perfectly.
“… pursuing conservation is at odds with the traditional outlook of water resource management agencies. According to a study of agencies in California, the Pacific Northwest, and Washington, D.C., water managers measure success by their ability to deliver safe, affordable drinking water in as much quantity as people demand. Absent a mandate from above, these managers may perceive conservation efforts as a failure to perform their job.”
Our executive director, Tracie Barham, wrote this op-ed for Voice of San Diego. Tracie calls out the Water Authority for cutting mandatory conservation measures when we need them most.
Without mandatory conservation, San Diego is positioning itself to fall back into the same short-sighted planning that built the state’s drought inadequacies in the first place.
For decades, the San Diego region inched closer and closer to a drought crisis, pumping more water for more lawns from the ever-dwindling supplies in the Colorado River Basin and the Bay Delta. We were addicted, concerned with getting more water today, not the drought tomorrow.
Then we hit rock bottom. In 2015, after we failed to respond to voluntary conservation calls to action, Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency. Finally, the state had a moment of truth: It was time to wean off the formerly sacrosanct approach of piping in more water and adopt the common-sense approach of using less. The state and region brought out an arsenal of incentives to encourage conservation, and in under a year we realized life was just as good when we used an average of 50 fewer gallons per person, per day. We lowered energy use, transformed our neighborhoods to reflect the region’s natural beauty and upgraded our technology. Since June 2015, San Diego had lowered its water use by a whopping 21 percent.
Meanwhile, the San Diego County Water Authority was fighting hard to get us hooked again. Why? 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. It led the charge of water dealers across the state to successfully lobby the California State Water Board to weaken conservation regulations. Now, water agencies can set their own conservation targets and, unsurprisingly, the Water Authority is seeking to set ours quite low. At zero. Zilch. Nothing. Nada. From a 25 percent conservation goal to no need to conserve water anymore.
The message: “The drought is over. Use as much as you want.” But the drought, and the consequences of our dependence on imported water, are as severe as ever. Eighty-four percent of the state remains in drought condition. The Sierra snowpack, the state’s largest water storage, is currently at 8 percent. Lake Mead is about 50 feet away from provoking a federal level 1 water shortage declaration, which could cut off water to Arizona and Nevada.
The Salton Sea, the biggest lake in California, is on track to go completely dry because of water transfers that San Diego takes from the farmers. When it does, lakebed toxins like arsenic and selenium could be blown into the air, creating a poisonous, apocalyptic dust storm. Would this be our state’s newest environmental injustice, poisoning Imperial Valley farmworkers and increasing childhood asthma as the toxic plume creeps as far as Los Angeles, just so we can keep lawns green?
Despite the successes of conservation, the Water Authority would rather go back to business as usual, leave the hose running and cash in. This is what happens when regulatory powers roll over from lobbying pressure and legal threats of water agencies. The focus of water supply shifts from the ever-receding water line to the financial bottom line.
Supposedly, the Water Authority is a big proponent of encouraging conservation. But lots of organizations encouraged conservation over the last 50 years. The change that finally pulled us out of our water binge wasn’t an encouraging pat on the head and a reminder to do the right thing. It was cash. Fines for wasting and rewards for conserving. We were poised to show the world what is possible when you embrace a smarter future instead of burying your head in a lush, green lawn.
Now without mandatory conservation, San Diego positioned itself to fall back into the same short-sighted planning that built the state’s drought inadequacies in the first place.
But there is another way. We must completely adapt to the new landscape of water scarcity and continuing drought. We’ll need more than empty words; we’ll need more conservation incentives like turf rebates for water-wise landscaping and more conservation education for the public. We’ll need major investments for more wastewater recycling and stormwater capture and to continue water conservation programs that were already working.
We can stay on track toward a better future, despite the fact that the Water Authority is calling for zero percent conservation measures. But to continue on a path toward finally breaking our crippling, lifelong addiction to wasteful use of imported water, the Water Authority must stop saying, “I encourage you to conserve,” while it hands us a brand new, shiny garden hose.
As this historic drought continues, it’s easy to see how dependent we are on water. Allowing students at a young age to explore the water in their communities creates a better understanding of how to preserve and protect this resource while gaining valuable science skills.
That’s why in 2003, we partnered with San Diego Unified School District, and the City of San Diego’s Think Blue Outreach program to create Project SWELL (Stewardship: Water Education for Lifelong Leadership). In Project SWELL, the impacts of humans on water are explored through a well-balanced, comprehensive, and hands-on water quality and pollution prevention course of study. Project SWELL helps teachers empower students to understand and improve the condition of San Diego waterways.
Project SWELL is a state standards-based science curriculum that teaches children about the importance of the region’s waterways by providing teachers with training about the scientific content, information on how to conduct scientific investigations and in-class support including materials, in class teacher trainings and lesson plans.
Through this partnership, San Diego Coastkeeper has created a hands-on program that offers training for teachers, makes it easy to engage students and meets new standards. Each Project SWELL unit of study (grades K, 1, 2, 4, 5, and 6) consists of 5 or 6 age appropriate, standards-based lessons that build student understanding of San Diego’s aquatic environments and emphasize the actions that students can take to improve them.
SDUSD K-6 teachers are you looking for an environmental education curriculum that helps your students realize the Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards? Our lessons can help your students develop critical thinking, find solutions to real-life problems using science, practice reading informational text, writing, and increase their science literacy.
And here’s what we offer for teachers:
Classroom visits free of cost. Students will do hands-on experiments, models and/or find solutions to real-life problems using science. Teachers if you want a SWELL expert to present in your staff meeting or classroom contact us today! Reservations for class visits must be submitted 2 weeks before your anticipated class visit.
SWELL Science Kits are offered through the district’s Instructional Media Center upon teacher request and include materials for 36 K-2 and 4-6 grade lessons.
Professional Development is offer twice a year for K-2nd and 4th-6th grade SDUSD teachers. Teachers receive 1.5 hrs. of professional development, SWELL kit, and time compensation. Please visit www.projectswell.org for more details and to download curriculum.
“Fix A Leak Week” ended. I’m pretty sure that some of us still have a leak or two that can be fixed, though, and that will save thousands upon thousands of gallons of water. So, in the spirit of experiential learning and full transparency, I bring you: my toilet.
San Diego Coastkeeper offers free dye tabs to anyone that wants them, thanks to a special delivery from the San Diego County Water Authority’s conservation director. Here’s your step-by-step pictorial how to guide to using them, as performed in my house:
STEP 1: Open your dye tab packet. (Get it free from San Diego Coastkeeper, if you need it.)
STEP 2: Remove the dye tab. Yes, it looks like a SweeTart. But it’s not, so don’t eat it.
STEP 3: Drop one dye tab in the tank of your toilet.
STEP 4: Agitate the water. You could try hurling insults or tickling to agitate it, but I suggest swirling a long-handled something in the tank, instead.
STEP 5: Wait. Wait a few moments longer.
STEP 6: Observe the water in the bowl of your toilet. Yes, of course mine is always this clean. If the water is clear like this, congratulate yourself. It’s likely you don’t have any water leaking from your tank. You are #waterwise! Tweet, Instagram or Facebook about it.
STEP 6.1: If a trail of blue appears in your tank, or you walk away and come back to a Smurf colored bowl, get your work clothes on or your plumber’s phone number out. There seems to be water leaking from your tank to your bowl. You could be losing thousands of gallons of water a year! That’s a lot of water that we can’t afford to waste; and you’re paying for it every time you get a bill. So take care of it!
Wondering what other leaks might be happening right under your roof? Check out Matt’s earlier blog about the trillion gallons lost every year to leaks and let us know how your fixes go!
Bonus tip: San Diego County Water Authority provides a FREE irrigation survey. Around 60% of water use in San Diego County is outside the home and a tiny leak in your irrigation system can lose 6,300 gallons per MONTH! That’s like taking an extra shower every single day. Sign up at the WaterSmart website. It’s free. Go for it.
We recycle lots of things— plastic bottles, aluminum cans, paper, styrofoam, etc. But did you know that you could also recycle water? Recycling water is possible and very beneficial to operating your home in a water-efficient manner. Here are two different and cost-effective ways to recycle water in your home:
One way you can recycle is by reusing graywater. Graywater is the water from your bathrooms sinks, showers, tubs, and washing machines. Often times, it contains traces of dirt, food, hair, grease, and cleaning products. Although it appears “dirty,” graywater can be recycled from your home and applied to your landscape in a water-efficient manner. Because graywater contains anaerobic bacteria, it isn’t ideal for the lawn or vegetable gardens. However, graywater does work great when you spray or flood around plants such as fruit trees and tomatoes.
According to Brook Sarsons, founder and owner of H2OME, “55 percent of our water usage is for residential use, and of that, 60 to 65 percent is used on landscaping.” Typical fruit trees use up to 35 to 50 gallons a week, and with a laundry-to-landscape system that recycles graywater, you can save up to 17 gallons of water a day. Sarsons also states that establishing 365 laundry-to-landscape systems would save over two million gallons of water per year.
Let’s face it: maintaining a lawn can be expensive. A 500-sq ft lawn requires 50 inches of water per year: that’s over 13,000 gallons of water. Along with graywater, a second way to drastically cut your water usage is through harvesting rainwater. You can harvest rain off the roof, into a tank, or directly into the ground. Unlike graywater, rainwater is great for vegetable gardens. With rainwater harvesting, a 1000-ft roof can yield 600 gallons of water with just one inch of rain. Although San Diego typically receives about 10 inches of annual rain, with gutters, you could fetch over 300 gallons per one-inch of rainwater. With a large plastic tank, you can save this recycled rainwater and re-distribute it to your garden in a water-conservative way–saving energy, money, and most of all, water.
P.S. Be on the lookout for May’s Signs of the Tide event featuring rain barrels!
Who: The contest is open to all high school students and all college students in the cities of San Diego, Coronado and Imperial Beach.
What: Create a 30-second Public Service Announcement
When: Entries due April 10, 2013
Where: All contest entrants will be recognized, and the finalists’ films will be shown at a special “Red Carpet Premiere” at the IMAX Theater at the Rueben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park
Why: The film contest creates an opportunity to engage students directly about the importance of using water wisely, allowing the creativity of the students to inspire the rest of our community to use water more efficiently.
Theme: Storylines must use one of the following “how-to” messages:
How to “waste no water” by planting native or California-Friendly® plants.
How to “waste no water” by using a rain barrel.
How to show that “wasting no water” is important to San Diego’s economy.
How to create a sustainable world by “wasting no water.
Water is one of our most precious resources and using it wisely is part of keeping San Diego sustainable. A certificate of participation will be given to every student who creates a poster. Prizes for the winners will be presented at a San Diego City Council presentation.
Recognition: Prizes will be awarded at a San Diego City Council presentation in May 2013. Winning posters will be featured in the 2014 Water Conservation Poster Calendar. Winning posters will also be on display throughout San Diego, including:
City Administration Building – Lobby: May 2013
San Diego Watercolor Society Gallery: June 2013
San Diego County Fair – Kids’ Best Art Exhibit: June 2013
Prizes: Gift cards will be given for each grade level for first place, second place, & third place. An overall winner for the Recycled Water Category will also win a gift card.
Teaching science for over 5 years, I found we have ingrained conservation into the minds of our students. From third grade to college, they can rattle off a laundry list of ways they can make a positive impact on our environment. Things like turning off the tap when brushing your teeth, taking shorter showers, biking to work, taking reusable bags shopping, turning off the lights when you leave a room–it’s music to an environmental educator’s ears. After a few months of hearing this list repeated over and over again, my questions changed from “what can we do?” to “how does it help us?”
We need to conserve our water. Phrases such as “it’s bad to waste electricity, we can’t use up all of our oil, we want clean beaches” are not bad but not exactly convincing either. For my third graders, I’ll let it slide. But I’m going to press the rest to think harder. We know these actions are good for the environment. But what about us? Where is the immediate return on our sacrifices and investments?
It turns out that environmental responsibility is economic responsibility.
I recently moved from Miami where I had two roommates. I diligently unplugged electronics not being used, took short showers, washed my clothes in cold water and turned off the lights when someone left them on. It was a running joke that I was the only one of the roommates who did this. I took it in stride as our electric bill for three of us was under $70 per month. I moved away in June, but the last electric bill was sent to me by mistake. With only two living in the same apartment and no one turning everything off, the bill was almost $25 more.
If $25 really isn’t a big deal to you then multiply by 12. If you still can’t think of anything you’d rather spend $300 on, get in touch with me. I’ve got some great suggestions.
At San Diego Coastkeeper, we are focused on protecting our water resources in San Diego County. In exchange for your short showers, running full loads of laundry and watering the lawn at night, you get a nice discount on your next water bill. Heating the water adds to your electric bill, so consider that next time you find yourself lingering in the scalding hot shower to ponder the meaning of life.
Just how much are you going to save with environmental responsibility? It costs about 15 cents for a 10 minute shower in San Diego. One shower a day makes it $50 a year. If San Diego water rates increase by the projected 50% in the next 5 years, one person could be looking at nearly $75 a year. That’s just for showers and not counting the cost to heat the water.
Taking a 5 minute shower (enough time to belt out two of your favorite songs in their entirety) would reduce the cost to below $40 for the year. Even with the project price increase.
So why should we care about doing the right thing? Aside from being an environmentally responsible action, it is more often than not better for your wallet. Each time we cut our reliance on a resource, from oil to water, we minimize demand and the reward falls to you. And it’s not just water and electricity. It extends to our fuel consumption, urban planning and development, and single-use plastics. Changing our behavior to do what’s best environmentally isn’t easy, but it just might benefit you quicker than you think.
Not to mention, it feels pretty good to do the right thing.
This tip is part of San Diego Coastkeeper’s Earth Day blog series running through April 22, 2012.
I can count on one hand how many times I have seen folks utilizing the grass lawn in their front yard. Backyards I kinda understand, you can let the dog run around, give a spot for your children to play, and wiggle your toes while you BBQ. But front yards? When is the last time you used the grass on your front yard?
The concept of grassy lawns dates back to 1500s England where it rains every month, no irrigation necessary. That model does not make sense in San Diego when we have to import our water. Why pump in water from long distance and at great cost, in both money and energy, to water a lawn that you don’t use? Especially when San Diego is home to many very beautiful plants that evolved to thrive in our dry climate.
Take a walk around Torrey Pines or our many canyons to see how nice these native plants look. You can have that in your front yard. Let’s blur the lines between “nature” and “urban” and make our city look how it is supposed to. You would save water and be the envy of your neighborhood.
To start you out, here is a list of easy-to-grow native plants.
This tip is part of San Diego Coastkeeper’s Earth Day blog series running through April 22, 2012.
It’s a battle. Every day I watch people guzzle out of single-use plastic water bottles, throw cigarette butts out their car window, fail to pick up after their dogs and nonchalantly opt for plastic bags at check-out at the grocery store.Things are getting better. We recycle. We bring our reusable bags to the store more often. We use water filters and “bottling our own” (a favorite Coastkeeper saying). And these “green victories” are incredibly rewarding.
This article claims that 98% of American toilet paper is made from virgin forests. In other words, only 2% of toilet paper in this country contains recycled paper. But this study from Natural Resources Defense Council claims that “If every household in the United States replaced just one roll of virgin fiber toilet paper (500 sheets) with 100% recycled ones, we could save 423,900 trees.”
In those terms, it’s a pretty simple decision to make. Switch just one roll of toilet paper to the recycled stuff and save hundreds of thousands of trees. And imagine if people switched out more than just one roll.
Back to the victory: the next week I went to that someone’s house and, to my surprise and delight, found the bathroom well-stocked with post-consumer recycled toilet paper. Looks like my message hit home, and now one more person is doing their part to save some trees. The Seventh Generation brand (Grist’s top pick) is available at most grocery stores. You can find a comprehensive list of recycled brands and how they measure up to each other here.
But why stop at toilet paper?! There are all kinds of paper products that are made with recycled content. Take a look at your options the next time you go to the grocery store. Switching paper products is a small, simple step toward sustainability.
This is the fifth of a 10-part blog series examining the nature of ASBS, the threats they face and the actions we can take to protect these biological hotspots for future San Diegans.
June 8 was a good day for our ocean –people around the globe observed World Oceans Day, and we here in San Diego honored our coastline with celebrations of pollution prevention and marine conservation. What better way to pay tribute to our ocean than by keeping it clean?
UCSD, Scripps Institution of Oceanography and San Diego Coastkeeper dedicated years of hard work to make changes and spread the word about ocean pollution, particularly in our Areas of Special Biological Significance (ASBS) off of La Jolla. On Wednesday, we celebrated the installation of pollution prevention systems at Scripps, which are designed to filter, treat and prevent polluted stormwater runoff that flows into our ASBS. Speakers talked about the great benefits these installations will have, our very own staff scientist, Jen Kovecses, helped lead tours through the installation sites, and guests got the chance to gleefully toss seed balls (filled with seeds of native plants) into the new planters, which will help filter runoff and keep the ocean clean. (Check out some of the event photos below.)
After the celebration at Scripps, Coastkeeper partied on down at Hennessey’s in La Jolla with members, friends, Barefoot Wine and Bubbly, Kona Brewing Company and The Barnwell Shift. We played games, listened to great music and won some excellent prizes, all in honor of our ASBS. When we take steps to prevent ocean pollution, we participate in a movement that supports wildlife, coastal communities and the beauty that attracts people from around the world to our shores.
While June 8 is a day dedicated to our ocean, we can speak up for clean water every day through the decisions we make and the actions we take. Keep an eye out for more opportunities to get involved with Coastkeeper and keep our water clean and vibrant, and mark your calendar for June 8, 2012 for next year’s World Oceans Day celebration – I’m sure it will be just as awesome!