You’re not saving enough water, Southern California – San Gabriel Valley Tribune

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Shame on you Colton and El Segundo, Torrance and Brea, Big Bear Lake and Coachella! Tsk, tsk, Desert Water Agency, Laguna Beach County Water District and Irvine Ranch!

A total of 33 water agencies — of Southland’s 144 reports — used more water in May 2022 than in May 2020, according to the state’s most recent data.

The governor, you may recall, asked us to cut 15% to deal with a historic drought.

Whoops.

But congratulations, fireworks and parades may be in order for Southland’s top water savers, who far exceeded the governor’s target.

Lake Oroville and other large reservoirs remain well below normal levels. (AP Photo/Ethan Swope, File)

They include the towns of Perris and Orange; the water districts of El Toro, Mesa and Las Virgenes; and the Lincoln Avenue and Sunny Slope water companies, all of which saved more than 19% (and some as much as 47%!), comparing May to May.

Statewide, water use was 3.1% lower in May than it was two years earlier, a California Water Boards spokesperson said.

Los Angeles County agencies eclipsed that, saving 5.3%; while agencies in Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties fell short (only 2%, 2.3% and 2.7% savings respectively).

Filling a glass with water from the kitchen tap.  (Photo by Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Filling a glass with water from the kitchen tap. (Photo by Getty Images/iStockphoto)

“This increase in conservation reverses the trend we saw in March and April, when water use increased at the end of what was the driest January, February and March on record. over 100 years,” the water board said in its summary of the data.

“As the state moves in the right direction, every Californian and every business needs to do more to save water.”

There are encouraging signs. Early June data — covering just 30% of the state’s population — shows water savings of 7.7% compared to June 2020.

“Until now, weather and precipitation have determined California’s water use instead of our collective drive for conservation,” the department said. “Many Californians activated irrigation systems earlier this year in response to historically hot and dry conditions, increasing water usage. We must continue to make up for the lost ground of the past months to reach the 15% objective; this will require more aggressive conservation actions from everyone.

To go up

Palm Springs’ Desert Water Agency was high on the list of water users, but spokeswoman Ashley Metzger said that was largely down to how it reported data in 2020 and the how she has to do it now.

According to the district’s calculations, the increase was not really the surprising 44.2% indicated by the data, but rather 15.5%.

Why, exactly? Old data only tracks water sold, while new data tracks water sold and system losses, Metzger said. Desert will update the state database so the comparison is apples to apples, she said.

But, mea culpa. “We’re still a very busy area,” she said. “We are in Palm Springs. It’s really hot here!”

It was 108 degrees on Friday, which should be the coolest day next week; the region is a playground for tourists, which makes the 2020 pandemic comparison a bit problematic as business is bustling again; and the area has become home to teleworkers who have fled more expensive digs near the coast, she said.

“All of that said, the bottom line is that we can do better,” she said via email. “We work with our customers on cores to incentivize water efficiency investment and we also use sticks with water waste enforcement, patrols and penalties. We just increased our grass removal incentive to $3 per square foot. We have also just trained our staff to perform more comprehensive water audits to help large customers save water. We are actively seeking grants to expand conservation.

The detail that locals need to understand is that they are not in danger of running out of water, despite the historic drought.

Unlike so many other towns and watersheds in Southland that must rely on expensive imported water, Desert is perched atop a plentiful aquifer and can plant its chaff in groundwater without worry. Several other busy cities/districts are in the same lucky spot.

So reducing use in the desert won’t help people in, say, Orange County, but it will help ensure that there is water for future generations of the desert.

“Luckily there are a lot of people out there who want to do the right thing anyway,” she said.

Flow limiters, fines

It is not easy.

The Las Virgenes Municipal Water District in Calabasas is one of the thirstiest water users in the state per capita – historically averaging more than 200 gallons per day, more than double the state average – because it mainly serves residential housing on large lots.

He saw the writing on the wall in June 2021 and adopted a “water shortage contingency plan” and began to step up his drought messaging, but with limited success.

A Scott Brothers Dairy worker near San Jacinto, monitors a pivot line irrigation system in an alfalfa field that uses recycled water, Wednesday, July 5, 2015. Climate change is expected to hurt the county's economy of Riverside by making it more difficult for crops to grow, among other factors.
A Scott Brothers Dairy worker near San Jacinto, monitors a pivot line irrigation system that uses recycled water, (File photo)

“It wasn’t until we changed our penalty structure in November 2021, and after we started installing flow restriction devices, that we started to see substantial water conservation,” said Joe McDermott , Director of Engineering, via email.

These flow restriction devices began to take effect on June 1. At the same time, the district began watering one day a week and stepped up enforcement efforts through water patrols.

“While we have seen substantial reductions in water use, we still have a lot of work to do,” he said. “Our goal is to achieve at least an overall conservation level of at least 35% each month compared to the same month in 2020. For customers who still exceed their water budget, they are exposed to financial penalties up to $10 for each unit (748) gallons of water that is beyond what is needed and a flow restriction device More outreach and increased enforcement efforts law may also be necessary to achieve this objective.

Descent

Those who have successfully reduced their water consumption share certain characteristics. Consider Mesa Water, which reduced its usage by 28.6%.

SOURCE: California Water Boards
SOURCE: California Water Boards

“Mesa Water customers have intentionally made water use efficiency a way of life – preparing us for extreme weather – with ‘WaterSmart’ plants, irrigation technologies and habits that not only save money, but also create vibrant classes, reduce energy consumption and protect natural resources,” spokeswoman Stacy Lynne Taylor said via email.

“In addition to Mesa Water’s uniform volumetric water rate structure which provides a very strong price signal to conserve, our district has made significant investments in water conservation incentives and education to encourage our customers to “Be Mesa Water Wise”, especially outdoors where customers use the most water.

Mesa and other water-efficient agencies encourage people to plant California-friendly trees and plants, adjust sprinkler heads and repair leaks, invest in smart sprinkler timers (which can help save up to 13,500 gallons per year) and pool covers. Mesa also encourages customers to take advantage of rebates for sod removal and drip irrigation installation.

“Mesa Water has a 100% local water supply thanks to long-term investments in water sources and infrastructure. Our customers always have many years of local, reliable, clean, safe and stored groundwater supply,” she said.

If more cities and districts don’t follow this lead and take more aggressive action, the state could be forced to enact mandatory restrictions, officials said.

“In Southern California and elsewhere, we have seen an increasing local response to drought; many providers have restrictions in place on outdoor irrigation,” the state water board said in a statement. “Thirsty lawns and plants are a big part of our water usage, especially in the summer months. Reducing outdoor irrigation – which can account for up to 80% of urban water use and is highest in the summer – is essential to meeting our conservation goals.

Final urban water data for June will be analyzed at the State Water Board’s Aug. 2 meeting, when officials can consider tougher conservation measures.

“As California’s climate increasingly resembles what we would see in Mediterranean regions of the world, it’s time to change our perspective on what beautiful landscaping looks like,” officials said.

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