When Governor Jerry Brown first announced mandatory water conservation efforts, cities quickly cried foul, noting that urban areas only consume 25 percent of the state’s water, with the rest going to agriculture. Indeed, the city of L.A. in three years doesn’t consume as much water as the state’s almond growers.
While the State Water Resources Control Board will impose restrictions to achieve a statewide 25 percent reduction in urban water usage through February 28, 2016, the actual wording means there will be city by city variance depending on per capita water usage.
In the executive order, “These restrictions will require water suppliers to California’s cities and towns to reduce usage as compared to the amount used in 2013. These restrictions should consider the relative per capita water usage of each water suppliers’ service area, and require that those areas with high per capita use achieve proportionally greater reductions than those with low use.”
For Davis, the city council will hear recommendations from city staff on how to comply with a proposal from the state that will increase Davis’ conservation level to 28 percent.
That is over and above the 16 percent reduction from 2014 to 2015 versus the 2012 to 2013 period.
On the state list of water users, Davis uses roughly 144 gallons per day, which is 213th on the list and in the middle tier.
The statewide regulations have the local newspaper crying foul in an editorial Friday morning. They call it a “blanket target for water reduction.” They write, “For a city like Davis, which already was conserving before Gov. Jerry Brown’s mandates, it will be a lot harder to meet the 28-percent target than for places where water use was much higher before the drought started to bite.”
They continue, “With every city held to the same standard (and without any real explanation of how the state came up with the 28-percent figure) it smacks of the usual blind, top-down thinking that typically comes out of Sacramento.”
They paper concludes, “It’s going to take some serious creative thinking on the part of city leaders to come up with ways to get our consumption down to that level.”
However, as usual, the Enterprise has this wrong. It is not a “blanket” approach, but rather one targeted by overall consumption. The biggest per capita water users will have to cut consumptions by as much as 35 percent over the next year while the lowest per-capita water use would be required to cut by just 10 percent.
If that’s not fair – then I fail to see the logic.
For example, Davis may have cut its water use by 16 percent, but it still uses 144 gallons per day compared to Woodland’s 119 gallons. Meanwhile, the cities of Arcata and Santa Cruz use less than 50 gallons per day.
Already, back in August of 2014, Santa Cruz imposed some of the toughest water restrictions in the state, according to an article in the San Jose Mercury News.
They report, “Since May 1, every residential property has been allotted a monthly ration: 10 units of water, or 7,480 gallons, for a family of four, to cover all uses, including lawn watering. Each unit averages about $3. But for people who go much above the limit, the cost skyrockets to $50 per unit, meaning monthly water bills can easily top $500 for families who don’t conserve.”
The fees work almost like a traffic ticket, where the customers can attend a water conservation class which would waive the fee.
It was a large deterrent, but apparently one people were willing to go to. The result was a dramatic decrease in water – they use one-third of the water that Davis does. So the Davis Enterprise can cry me a river complaining that the state is mandating a 28 percent reduction, based on how much the city has already cut, when other communities have done far far more.
As a result, KGO in San Francisco reported two weeks ago that Santa Cruz’s water reduction program could become the model for the state. Santa Cruz County is actually in a far tougher spot because it is completely dependent on precipitation, with its water supply coming from creeks and rivers with a small reservoir collecting runoff.
Contrary to the notion that this is a blanket cut, the state regulations hit the communities that use the most water harder than those who use less water.
For instance, the LA Times a few weeks ago reported, “Residents in communities like La Cañada Flintridge, Malibu and Palos Verdes used more than 165 gallons of water per capita per day in February. By contrast, Santa Ana residents used just 60 gallons, and in communities in southeast Los Angeles County, residents used less than 45.”
Communities in the 35 percent reduction group include: Bakersfield, Redding, South Pasadena, Hemet and Colton.
The Times notes, “But some of the state’s wealthy communities have come under scrutiny for high water use. These areas tend to have fewer apartments and less dense housing. Homes tend to be larger and include sprawling, landscaped grounds.”
There is, of course, some inequity within the community as well. The 2000-plus square foot home with a swimming pool and vast lawns is going to be using a lot of water and will have to cut back on that usage. Naturally they have to cut back a lot more in terms of actual water use than a renter in an apartment. On the other hand, it may be easier for water-guzzlers to reduce their usage than people who have already been practicing good water habits.
So my bigger concern is not that Davis has already cut back on its water usage and now has to do it again while others in the state didn’t – our usage level indicates we should be able to cut back more. The bigger concern is drafting a municipal water policy that makes the water wasters have to cut back more than those already taking pains to conserve. And that will be hard to implement.
—David M. Greenwald reporting