Top Ten: Quick Ways To Conserve Water

h20drop-sIn San Diego, a typical household uses about 10,472 gallons of water a month. What can you do to use less this month? Whatever your conservation goal is – 15 percent, 25 percent or more – the more of these steps you take, the more water you’ll save. The more water you save, the more money you’ll save on your water and sewer bills.


  1. While waiting for hot water to come through the pipes, catch the cool water in a bucket or a watering can. Use this water later to water plants or run your garbage disposal.
  2. Hand wash dishes once a day using a minimal amount of detergent to cut rinsing. Use a sprayer or short blasts of water to rinse.
  3. Save up to 250 gallons of water a week when watering your lawn! Water your lawn and landscaping before dawn or after the sun sets when there’s less evaporation. Adjust your sprinklers so they don’t spray on sidewalks, driveways or streets.
  4. By replacing your regular showerheads with low-flow showerhead you can save up to 230 gallons a week.
  5. Turn the water off while brushing your teeth or shaving.
  6. Channel your inner plumber. You can save more than 150 gallons for each leak that you fix inside and outside of your home. Think about faucets, fixtures and pipes.
  7. Flush the toilet only when necessary. Never use the toilet as an ashtray or wastebasket.
  8. Adjust your car washing methods: When taking your vehicle to a car wash, take it to a place that recycles its wash water. If washing your car at home, use a bucket of water and sponge. Rinse quickly at the end, never allow the hose to run continuously.
  9. Never do laundry or run the dishwasher with less than a full load. This simple method can save up to 30 gallons per week.
  10. Always use a broom when cleaning your patio or balcony; never use a hose.

Remember, if you see someone wasting water, please report them to us using this secure, anonymous online form.

Published in Change Your Habits

San Diego’s Water Supply

Do you ever wonder where your water in San Diego comes from? Do you know what type of impact that has on our environment or how much energy it uses? Watch San Diego Coastkeeper’s video on the water supply in San Diego to learn more. Then visit us at http://localhost/sdcoastkeeper.

Published in Videos

Over-tapped: The Most Endangered River in the Country

How You and IPR Can Save the Colorado River

In its annual list of America’s Most Endangered Rivers of 2013, American Rivers has named the Colorado River as the number-one Most Endangered River in the country. Bob Irvin, President of American Rivers, identified that the Colorado River is “so over-tapped that it no longer reaches the sea.”

The Colorado River is, simply put, the lifeline of the Southwest. It supplies drinking water to 36 million people from Denver to LA, irrigates four million acres of land and supports a 26 billion dollar outdoor recreation economy.

Yet it currently stands as the Most Endangered River in America because of outdated water management that can’t respond to the pressures of over-allocation and persistent drought. This led American Rivers to sound the alarm for Congress to support state-of-the-art water supply programs that can positively and sustainably impact how the water in the Colorado River is managed.

This also highlights to the significance of what we can do in San Diego—both as a region through potable reuse and individually as water-conscientious citizens and community members.

Currently, the City of San Diego is deciding whether to move forward with full-scale water purification projects in San Diego. San Diego Coastkeeper and the Water Reliability Coalition—a groundbreaking collaboration between environmental and business-oriented groups—are encouraging the San Diego City Council to approve full-scale water purification projects to create more potable water in San Diego. Creating a reliable, secure local water supply is both good for the environment and good for business.

Potable reuse projects use special technology to purify water, leaving it extremely clean. Just how clean? The ultra-purified water is actually cleaner than the water we import from the Colorado River or the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. The ultra-purified water can then be mixed with imported water either at a reservoir or at a drinking water treatment plant before it gets another round of treatment.

The City of San Diego has run a pilot project of this technology since early 2012. When they tested the ultra-purified water for over 300 compounds, the purified water met all drinking water standards. Not only that, but the purified water contained only two of the 91 Chemicals of Emerging Concern, while imported water that makes up the bulk of our drinking water contained 13 of these chemicals.

While the City of San Diego is working to implement potable reuse projects, there are a lot of things that we can do, both large and small, that can make an impact on water conservation efforts like that of saving the Colorado River. See what positive changes you can make to reduce your daily water use. And please contribute to Coastkeeper’s efforts with the City and other decision makers.

Together, we can make a lasting impact on San Diego’s water supply and save the Colorado.



Go Jump Off A Boat: It’s Swimmable Day in San Diego

Snorkeling for lures.

That’s how I describe my childhood.

I grew up near the McKenzie River in Walterville, Ore. That’s just upstream from Eugene/Springfield area. Every summer my brother and I rode our bicycles to the “beach” on the river a mile from our house. (Yes, I did just call it the beach. You see, in Oregon, going to the beach means playing at the sandy swimming hole on the river). We’d lock our bikes to a tree and head upstream for about a half mile with our snorkels and fins. Just before the little trail hit private property, we’d balance our way out on a fallen tree from which we’d launch into the river. We snorkeled left and right, deep fishing holes and shallow ones too, collecting every treasure we could find.


This is not Oregon. This is from a recent hike in the Narrows in Zion National Park in Utah. My early childhood playing in the McKenzie River led me to lifelong pursuits of playing in Swimmable waters.

Occasionally we’d see sunken beer cans and one time we found a wallet with a wedding ring in it. And we’d always see lures. New ones too, that some unexpecting fisherman just bought from the tackle store up the road, only to snag it on a boulder or branch caught underwater.

We’d carefully collect the lures and when we had enough, we’d have a garage sale and sell them back to the same fisherman heading down our street to the best fishing holes in town. What a business model!

It’s because of memories like these that I’m proud to celebrate the Clean Water Act’s 40th anniversary–this federal law helps organizations across the nation keep America’s waters fishable, swimmable and drinkable.

Today, the Waterkeeper Alliance joins to celebrate swimmable waters. Today, I will swim in the ocean.

Here at San Diego Coastkeeper, we work tirelessly to protect and restore fishable, swimmable and drinkable waters in San Diego. We want you to create your own memories about swimming at La Jolla Cove or surfing in Imperial Beach that you can carry with you wherever you live. Because these are the moments that matter in life and will be the stories that we share over a cup of coffee or during a long walk on the beach.

Today, we want you to take a break from signing letters, advocating for water efficiency and worrying about storm water permits so that you can enjoy Swimmable waters.

Go jump off a boat. Kayak into the sunset. Shred a wave. Train for a tri. Today we celebrate the Clean Water Act and San Diego’s swimmable waters.

Earth Day 2012: Rip Out Your Front Yard

dsc00328-sThis 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.

Eat Your Way to a Healthy Planet

I love cheeseburgers. Hodad’s, Rocky’s, Five Guys … they’re all my favorites.  But for next week, I’ve decided to drop the burgers and go vegetarian during San Diego Veg Week. I invite you to join me and several other staff members here at San Diego Coastkeeper as we go meatless from September 25-October 2.

Here are 5 ways that eating vegetarian can help protect the environment:

  1. It takes 12,009 gallons of water to produce a pound of beef.  That means you can  save more water by forgoing one pound of beef, or four hamburgers, than by not showering for a year.
  2. Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, or “CAFOs” are a major source of water pollution around the country.  Animal waste and feed cropland dump more pollutants into our waterways than all other human activities combined.
  3. Meat production is a major contributor to the “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico—7,000 square miles where dissolved oxygen in the water is too low to support marine life.
  4. Cow farts are a major source of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.By passing on the burger, you can reduce your contribution to global climate change.
  5. Nearly half the water consumed in this country and 70 percent of the grain grown is used for livestock, mostly cattle.

Water Unwise: Answers to the burning questions

This is the third of a 5-part blog series examining the nature of our local water supply and how to increase the reliability of our supplies now and into the future.

Recently we posted a video of watering turf grass at Liberty Station. We asked you to see if you could spot whether there were any water unwise things in the video. I am sure you have been waiting with baited breath for the answer.

As I hinted in the last blog post, to get a sense of what is technically incorrect, we need a quick review of what our local ordinances say about irrigating.

  • First thing we need to know is that the San Diego City Council removed the Drought Level 2 status. Our City Council exercised some foresight last year and made a few of the drought level 2 restrictions permanent. Now, drought or no drought, there are just some things you cannot do, end of story.
  • Which brings us to the next important things you need to know – it is still illegal to water your lawn between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. (June to October) and 10 a.m. and after 4 p.m. (November to May); and “City of San Diego water customers must prohibit excessive irrigation and must immediately correct leaks in their private water systems” (emphasis mine). The City’s regulations now state that customers “shall not allow water to leave their property due to drainage onto adjacent properties or public or private roadways or streets or gutters due to excessive irrigation and/or uncorrected leaks.”

Thus, according to the letter of the law, Liberty Station is within the bounds of legal limits in terms of when they water all that turf – the video was shot in May, at 9 AM. BUT, the video clearly shows excessive irrigation (as evidenced by the water flowing on the sidewalks, pooling around the sprinkler head and flowing into a drain).


Jill Witkowski

The video demonstrates a clear violation of the letter of the law.

But beyond that, there is a clear violation of the spirit of the law as well, which in my mind is meant to keep all San Diegans – whether they manage a small house or a large commercial development – living within our water means. Given our climate and troubled water supply, we should always be striving to make the best water use decisions possible. To their credit, Liberty Station is participating in a pilot Water Savings Performance Program. They have installed an automated irrigation system that determines the length of time and the days to irrigate based on weather, soil, microclimate and plant material. This is a good start but is clearly not sufficient.

But what is a historical site that is trying to pay tribute to its military roots supposed to do?

Well, there are many things Liberty Station could have done and still could do. As Morgan, one of our commentators pointed out “Turf is not water wise … period.” There are other native and drought tolerant ground covers that look similar to turf grass and would help maintain the look of old military training fields of yore.

While it is great that Liberty Station has installed a fancy water-saving irrigation system, they lose half the battle if they don’t check to make sure it is working properly:

  • sprinkler heads spraying water onto concrete should be addressed immediately;
  • lawns could easily be watered earlier in the morning (just around dawn is generally considered best);
  • water should be applied more slowly by switching to more efficient irrigation heads (thanks again to our commentator Morgan for that idea).

Of course, these kinds of changes cannot happen overnight. But with a thoughtful plan for improving water management on site, Liberty Station could identify opportunities over the coming years to change its water path. We believe that any place – not just Liberty Station – can and should craft plans of action that lays out a vision and tasks for achieving water sustainability.





Can you spot the water waste?

This is the second of a 5-part blog series examining the nature of our local water supply and how to increase the reliability of our supplies now and into the future.

Among the many things that make working at Coastkeeper great is the location of our offices. We come to work each day at Liberty Station – from our windows we can see a glimpse of San Diego Bay, the old navy channel, gardens and playing fields and historic buildings. But our buildings also stand amid a sea of turf grass. Personally, I prefer walking around gardens and pseudo-open space over walking through looming skyscrapers. But, turf grass means water – a lot of it.

At Coastkeeper, we like to think of ourselves as good water-Samaritans, so our staff is always on the watch for water waste. Recently, our intrepid Communications Director Jamie Ortiz, noticed clear signs of water waste right outside our front door at Liberty Station. Being the tech savvy person that she is, she documented it on video. I thought this might make for a fun water-wise quiz – How many water unwise things can you spot in this video? The video was taken on May 3, 2011 at 9 a.m.

Hint: you might need to check the City of San Diego’s current water use ordinances to find out what is technically not allowed.

Feel free to fill out your answers in a comment box or just remember your answers and check back in one week when we post the answers.

Survey Says…. We still need to conserve more water



Credit San Diego County Water Authority.  2011 Public Water Survey.

This is the first of a 5-part blog series examining the nature of our local water supply and how to increase the reliability of our supplies now and into the future.

On April 12th, the Board members of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD) voted to end the 2009 decision to limit water deliveries to the Southern California agencies. What does a board vote by a L.A. public agency have to do with San Diegans you might ask? Well, a lot actually.  In 1946, the County Water Authority joined the MWD to get deliveries of imported water from the Colorado River.  In addition, all the water San Diego receives from Northern California through the State Water Project comes via the MWD. The MWD, as the largest individual source of supply, controls the spigot to most of the water in San Diego.

In response, the San Diego County Water Authority board voted yesterday to end the mandatory cutbacks. Effective today, the County Water Authority will restore full urban water deliveries to its 24 member retail water agencies. Each of these agencies now has the opportunity to maintain or lift its own restrictions. To some, this news will be greeted with joy – no more “drought alerts”; no more worrying about when to water your lawn. Just green lawns, long showers, happy times. To others, the short-sightedness of these decisions brings concern and consternation.

On the surface it seems sensible – the past year has brought plenty of rain and snow in California and major reservoirs are re-filling across the state. No more drought means no need for extreme emergency measures. Mayor Sanders has called for the City of San Diego to lift its restrictions because “emergency regulations should be reserved for emergencies”. But he is missing the point – very low water years are a regular part of Southern Californian life – not something unfortunate that just happens occasionally.

To its credit, the County Water Authority acknowledged that despite this vote “our state’s water supply system is still in crisis” and we still need to do our best to use water responsibly. Maybe as an effort to balance its decision to end the restrictions, the County Water Authority also pointed to results from their annual public survey of County residents to reassure the public that “most residents plan to continue their water-saving practices under a variety of conditions, including the end of mandatory water use restrictions”. Eighty three percent of all survey respondents agreed that they would continue to comply with the mandatory water restrictions if they were lifted whether or not they had reduced their usage in the past.
















Now that does sound reassuring. But public opinion polls often produce conflicting results and this one is no different. If you look at the results of the survey, you will find some results that cast doubt that voluntary conservation will continue. The survey also found that only 31% of respondents reduced their household water usage last year. A majority of respondents also said they would return to a higher usage if their families grew, if there was a hotter/drier year, or they moved to a larger home). To me, these results among others demonstrate that despite the success we had in conserving water since 2009, maintaining these conservation gains in the future will require concerted regulatory effort.

The most encouraging results in the survey, was that support for treating recycled water to potable standards is increasing (over-half of respondents found it acceptable), something Coastkeeper has been promoting for our region. And a majority of respondents also indicated support for maintaining mandatory restrictions.

So, I am putting out a call for my own informal, perhaps not statistically-robust survey. Fill out a comment field and tell me what you think – should your local water agency keep its water restrictions in place? What, if any, actions have you taken to reduce your water footprint? Will you keep doing them if your local supplier ends the restrictions? Better yet, tell your local water supplier what you think.


Real Solutions to San Diego’s Flooding Problem

San Diego has a flooding problem.   When it rains, roads flood, property is submerged, some people are forced from their homes and potentially lives are at risk.  

But what can we do about it?  Short of jumping in our Delorean and going back in time to halt all development in Mission Valley and other floodplains, what are our real options?

The City of San Diego would have you believe that we can alleviate San Diego’s flooding woes if only they could run bulldozers and backhoes through all of our “stormwater facilities.”  But those so-called “stormwater facilities” aren’t just concrete channels filled with garbage and debris.  They also include our natural creeks and earthen channels that provide valuable urban habitat corridors and remove pollution from stormwater and runoff.


Stormwater facilities also include natural creeks and earthen channels such as this one that provides valuable urban habitat corridors and remove pollution from stormwater and runoff.

Not only would bulldozing our creeks impact wildlife and harm water quality, but it actually won’t solve the flooding problem in the most serious areas.  When pressed, the City of San Diego will admit that bulldozing flood-prone channels like Alvarado Creek will do little to address the flooding problem; those creeks do not have the design capacity to handle flows larger than a five- to 10-year storm.

So while those in flood-prone areas blame environmentalists for the flooding, bulldozing our creeks is not a real solution to the problem.

San Diego’s flooding problems will only be solved when all of us—the City and its citizens—change our attitude about stormwater.  Instead of rushing to get rain off of our properties and downstream where it is someone else’s problem, our development needs to better mimic natural systems.  We can do this through techniques such as rain barrels, permeable pavement and other low impact development that clean and handle rain water where it falls rather than quickly channeling it to flood downstream.


Stormwater facilities also include natural creeks and earthen channels such as this one that provides valuable urban habitat corridors and remove pollution from stormwater and runoff.

The City can do its part to solve the flooding problem by a combination of (1) increasing capacity in our channels through techniques and (2) reducing the amount of stormwater that makes it to those channels.  To really solve our problem, the City must widen channels where it can and retrofit our streets and other City-owned property using low impact development techniques.

Sure, it may mean a dozen or so fewer parking spots at Qualcomm Stadium, but it could greatly relieve our serious flooding problems.

Published in Urban Runoff