April 25, 2009

Level 2 Water Shortage Alert

On Friday, the San Diego County Water Authority decided that we are in a Level 2 Drought.  The board of the water authority agreed to cut water delivery by 8%.  

What will Level 2 mean to Poway water users?  
Let's check the ordinance:

3. Water Use Restrictions. During a Level 2 Water Shortage Alert, the water use efficiency measures identified in PMC 8.94.040 and at Level 1 Water Shortage Watch are mandatory for all persons using City of Poway water in addition to the following mandatory conservation measures:
a. Landscape watering shall be conducted only in conformance with landscape watering schedules and restrictions for commercial and residential properties approved by the City Manager. The watering schedule and restrictions may address factors such as how many days during the week, which days of the week, the amount of time per watering station, and other pertinent details. Watering of landscaped areas that are not irrigated by a landscape irrigation system shall be subject to the same watering schedule and restrictions, using a bucket, hand-held hose with positive shut-off nozzle, or low-volume non-spray irrigation.
b. All leaks shall be repaired within 72 hours of notification by the City of Poway, unless other arrangements are made with the City Manager.
c. Ornamental fountains or similar decorative water features shall not be operated unless reclaimed water is used.
4. Allocation. During a Level 2 Water Shortage Alert, the City of Poway is authorized by action of the City Council to establish a water allocation for property receiving water service from the City of Poway, and to establish a penalty for any person that uses water in excess of their allocation.
5. Rate Structure. During a Water Shortage Response Level 2 condition, in addition to water use restrictions, the City is authorized by action of the City Council to implement a conservation rate structure designed to encourage water conservation. This rate structure may also include penalties to be used during periods of water allocation

Shorter version- no fountains, higher bills, limited watering schedules. Oh, and something called "allocations" and penalties.  Almost every city has  similar water conservation rules on the books now which is not surprising since the San Diego County Water Authority sent out a model ordinance for them to use.  The variations are all about how each water district determines "allocations".

Poway has a lot of big water hogs. The SDUT posted a list of the month by month use of the 200 top residential water users in Poway. No names are on the list, but the water use totals are just eye- popping, jaw dropping ginormous. The top residential user in Poway racked up 13,287 total units in 2007 and 2008 combined. That averages out to almost 5 million gallons of water per yr.  Even the 200th top person managed to use over a million gallons per yr. And there are at least 198 other high end users just like them. 

Poway's  first tool in their conservation kit will be new water rates that increase as consumption increaes.  The new rates (awaiting final approval) will be tiered in 5 blocks. 

block 1 0-15      $2.72  
block 2 16-40    $3.06
block 3 41- 80    $3.40
block 4 81-120   $4.08
block 5 121+     $4.76

Update (h/t to joe st lucas) The rates in the first draft were incorrect.

In case the water hogs don't give a rat's ass if their rates go up, the city has a few other tools in their kit. They have transferred 6 employees to a "Water Conservation Team". It will be their job to cajole, bribe (conserve and get a chance to win a wii), allocate and if need be, issue fines, until water use decreases. Already, a disgruntled Powegian has stepped forward to complain in last week's Chieftain:

Avoid class warfare in Poway 
I understand the need to conserve water in the face of the ongoing record drought, but it strikes me there is an effort to play a blame game in the proposal before the council to have multi-tiered water rates that go up to the stratosphere for people using significantly more than the average amount of water. 
I’ve lived in Poway for more than 20 years and I always wanted to have some nice landscaping. Also, one of the reasons I wanted to live here was because it is more open, but a consequence of that is there is more landscaping. 
Anyway, two years ago I finally bit the bullet and spent $25,000 to put in some nice landscaping. No one expected the drought to last so long. I expected the city would be a reliable supplier of water. Now I’m hearing that I’m going to be cut off at the knees if I don’t reduce my water usage to the level of a condo owner and let all my landscaping die. And no account is being made of the fact that I used much less water for so long, but now my needs have increased. 
Class warfare seems to be staple of politics in other communities; I’d be sorry to see it here in Poway. I don’t think it has any place here. I’m sure our recently departed mayor would have found a reasonable compromise, may God rest his soul. I hope the council will be able to continue in that vein. 
Gregory West 

Class warfare? Are you kidding me? Let's just de-escalate this thing right now. How about a water balloon fight? I tell you what, we fill the balloons at your house, Mr. West and we can throw them at each other on my front lawn.  

Just kidding.  

I understand your angst, Mr. West. For the past 15 yrs or so, I have been paying more than twice the sewer rate that the water hogs pay. As a special bonus, the city capped sewer fees at 51 units. Yep, all those water hogs who are using 100-200 units of water in the winter time, get a discount on the first 51 units and pay no sewer charges at all on  the last 50-150 of those units. The city says this is because they can't imagine anyone pouring that much water down the drain.  Yet this same city  imagined that I poured 13.6 units down the drain in Jan/Feb, even though my bill clearly shows I only received 10 units of water during that time. Go figure.

Instead of fomenting about class warfare, Mr West, maybe you would be more effective if you helped to aim those pitchforks at the public officials who are making the bad policy decisions, or refusing to make the good policy decisions. Have you ever wondered why the city of Poway approved another golf course in north Poway and a waterpark in south Poway after our last big drought, or why the de-salinization plant is on the slow-track?  

There has been no word out yet that gives a hint of how the Water Conservation Team will set allocations. The city of San Diego tried to set  allocations based on past water use. This didn't go over too well, and they have now backtracked.  Like Poway, San Diego has hired 10 water cops and they are also employing other tools, for example, using infrared satellite imagery to peek at each parcel and see if areas are overwatered.  Neither Poway nor San Diego has met their conservation goals through voluntary methods.

One Orange county community has been particularly successful in reducing water consumption

Irvine Ranch, which serves 330,000 people in Irvine and parts of Tustin and Newport Beach, adopted its strategy in the face of the major drought that struck Southern California in the early 1990s. In the district, each home's water budget is based on site-specific data: How many people live in a house and how large the property's landscaping is. Those who go above their allocation pay higher rates the more they exceed their allowed use.

The Irvine Ranch model offers evidence that homeowners will use less water if given financial incentives to conserve. A person living in the Irvine Ranch district uses 90 gallons per day. An average San Diegan uses about 162 gallons a day.

The Irvine Ranch Water District assumes every house has 4 residents and 1350 sq ft of landscaping. They allow  75 gallons of water per resident per day. They adjust the outdoor allocation based on the weather.  If more people live in a house, or if the lot size is larger, the allocation is increased.  The water hogs pay much steeper rates.

Six percent of Irvine Ranch customers fall into the district’s excessive and wasteful user categories, forcing them to pay rates four to eight times higher than their efficient neighbors. Those penalty rates generate about $2.5 million annually, which is then used to subsidize the lowest rates and fund conservation programs.

"What we are trying to do is send a very strong price signal to customers that they have inefficient use," Sanchez said. "The message we have is that you can use as much water as you want. But if you choose to be inefficient, you’re going to pay for that inefficiency."

So, the customers pay for the water and for their inefficient use of the water. Interesting. The Irvine Ranch method of allocation is certainly worth taking a look at. 

Using water efficiently comes with living in Southern California. We've lived in Poway for over 30 yrs. Drought happens, and after a few years, it happens again.  We have made some adjustments to our landscaping to reduce our water consumption. We reduced the size of our grassy areas to less than 300 sq. ft. We've added drought tolerant shrubs.  We have our irrigation set up so that not a single drop finds its way to the gutter. Last autumn, we made 2 additional improvements. Several of our irrigation lines were still dripping after they were turned off for the winter. I finally figured out that the valves were the cause of the leak. I replaced a part inside the top of each of the valves and that stopped the leaks. The repair was pretty easy, and the folks over at Poway Irrigation knew exactly which part I needed for my model of valve. 

Our second improvement was to replace our sprinkler heads. Our backyard grassy area (pictured at the top of this post and below) has an unusual shape. It winds around the deck and patio and along a serpentine brick wall. Getting good coverage that doesn't wet the hardscape is a bit tricky.

We had been using TORO sprinkler heads with an adjustable pattern. But they  didn't really deliver the water evenly. We would get dry spots and wet spots no matter how much we adjusted them. We replaced them with the HUNTER rotating sprinkler heads that were on the SoCal WaterSmart rebate list. We bought them at Poway Irrigation for about $7.50 ea. The rebate was $4 ea. The SoCal Water Smart people did come through with their rebate, although I had to call and remind them that it was overdue.

The new sprinkler heads deliver the water at about half the rate of the old Toros, so we needed to lengthen the watering times.  We hope the city manager doesn't set the watering time so that it is too short to do an adequate job.  I would hate to have to switch back. The new sprinklers work great. Both of the pictures in this post were taken after running the sprinklers. If you zoom in, you can see that the patio and deck are barely touched by the water.  

As an added  bonus, the new sprinkler heads were easy to install. We just unscrewed the top of the old sprinklers, ran the water to clean the line and pop out the old filter, put in the new parts  and screwed a new top on. The adjustments for getting the right pattern were also very easy. I highly recommend these sprinkler heads. 


Mike Fry said...

Chris, Good work finding how Irvine charges for water and sewer. Poway has resisted this system as impractical, yet Irvine has achieved low water use. I have asked for head count and lot size allocations for some time now. Maybe they will listen this time.

Mike Fry

Chris Cruse said...

Mike, another plus for the Irvine Ranch plan is that they were able to get their whole plan implemented within 6 months by plugging info from public records into their computer program. The Irvine Ranch district is much larger than Poway's. They serve 330,000 people compared to Poway's 50,000.