May 17, 2010


Leadership. I've been hearing that word a lot lately. Which is fitting because we have an election right around the corner. Leadership does matter when we pick our leaders. So, I wanted to take a look at one of the biggest issues- Water Conservation- and see how the candidates (and current councilmembers) are doing on water conservation. Are they just telling us to use less water or are they leading by example? I requested the water use data from all of the current councilmembers and candidates for the last 2 yrs. Candidates were under no requirement to release that information, but EVERY ONE of THEM did. Kudos to the candidates. I used the water use data  to compare water conservation efforts from candidates and current councilmembers. 

First, a word about the data. Everybody is not on the same billing cycle. Some people get their bills in Jan/Mar/May/July/Sept/Nov and others get them in Feb/April/June/August/Oct/Dec. For purposes of comparing data, I aligned Jan bills with Feb bills, and Mar bills with April bills, etc. Also note that the data is for the billing date. The  billing date  will indicate the water use in the 2 previous months. For example, a March billing date will indicate how much water was used in the previous January and February.

There were also  2 instances where the customer had more than one reading in a billing cycle (probably indicating a new meter was installed) and one huge anomaly (probably indicating a water pipe break). Dave Grosch had 2 meter readings for Jan, 2010. I added the readings together. I did the same for Carl Kruse who had 2 readings in Jun/July 2009. Betty Rexford, who has the lowest water use among the group had a 129 unit reading in Aug 2009. No other reading was more than 11 units, so I substituted 11 units for the August 2009 reading. 

First, I wanted to compare the total water use during the period from Feb/Mar 2008 until Mar/April 2010.

Here are the results (click on each graph to make it larger):

The biggest water consumers during this period were Steve Vaus, Jim Cunningham and Don Higginson. Which is kind of interesting. Because they all live in the same neighborhood.  I'm not saying they would vote the same way on everything. But how weird would it be to have the council majority be 3 people who live about a block from each other and are big water users to boot?  Would we all feel represented under such a scenario?

The next biggest water user is Grosch (who used less than half the water Vaus used), followed by Boyack, Mullin, Collins and Babich.  At the bottom of the pack were Kruse, Cross, Willoughby, and Radcliff, all of whom live on smaller acreage than the other councilmembers and candidates. The smallest water user is Rexford, who, I believe, has a well.

Because some of the councilmembers and candidates live on larger parcels than others, I decided to compare winter water use. During the 2010 winter, folks should have been able to turn off their outside irrigation for an entire 2 month period. Especially if they were leading by example.  Ahem....

The following graph shows the number of units billed  in Feb. or Mar for each of the last 3 winters, 2008, 2009, and 2010. The data from 2010 is in yellow. 

The largest winter water user, by far, is Steve Vaus. His total use during Dec/Jan for the last 3 years is almost 300 units. And he used 65% more water during this period in 2010 than he did during this period in 2009.  Jim Cunningham is the next largest wintertime water user; he used just a little over half of what Vaus used. With the exception of Vaus, almost everyone cut their wintertime use in 2010 or kept it pretty close to what they used in 2009. 

With the city promoting turning off irrigation this winter, I would have expected to see the 2010 data (in yellow) be fairly close for everyone, despite their lot size.  But it isn't.  Boyack's use is the lowest- just 3 units. Collins is next lowest at 4, followed by Willoughby, Rexford and Grosch, who are all in single digit use. Way to lead by example!

Mullin, Kruse, Radcliff and Cross used under 15 units. Higginson clocked in at 19 (less than half what he used the previous winter), Babich came in at 20, followed by Cunningham at 33, and in the very last spot, Vaus with 91 units.  91 units is way out there!

The next thing I wanted to look at was whether the candidates and councilmembers had cut back their use since the previous year. So I compared the total number of water unit used during the last 12 months to the 12 months before that.

The following information is useful in comparing and analyzing the data:
Vaus, Higginson and Babich all have lots between 32,000-37,000 s.f.
Cunningham, Rexford and Mullin have lots in the 22,000- 27,00 s.f range. 
Boyack's lot is about 14,500 s.f
Radcliff, Wiilloughby and Cross have lots between 6,600-7500 s.f.
The size of Grosch, Collins and Kruse's lot is unavailable on the Poway or Sandag's GIS site or zillow. 
Grosch lives in Rancho Arbolitos in a lot zoned PC-2. Collins lives in North Poway on a lot zoned RS-2 and Kruse also lives in North Poway on a lot zoned RS-4.

Once again, some people have been conserving for years and their recent use might not show much improvement. But look at that graph! Everybody, except Radcliff,  cut their water use in the past year. I'm going to give Radcliff a pass on this because his water use was, and still is, pretty low.  

The graph shows that, in general, people who have larger lots use more water. No surprise there. But there is still a lot of spread between the larger water consumers. Vaus, Higginson and Babich have lots that are relatively close in size, yet Vaus uses way more water than Higginson and more than twice as much water as Babich. So, there is still lots of room for improvement and leadership. And probably pool covers. 

Note: All of the candidates do not have the same philosophy when it comes to how the city should structure water rates and promote conservation. Please visit each candidate's website to learn more about their view on water conservation and water rates:

Roger Willoughby (could not find a website for Willoughby)


Anonymous said...

Chris, Betty Rexford dos not use her well, has not for about 20 years, She just conserves by using less water and she is on an acre and a half of land. Thanks for doing the study it looks like Vaus is a large water user does he know The City of Poway needs to cut back and conserve. On his web site he said that the fees are too high for high water users so that must mean low users should subsidize Vaus. Sounds like he would not be fair to all Poway water users hope people read your blog before they vote. Again thanks for what you do for Poway you get the truth out. Old Poway

Steve Vaus said...

Dear Ms. Cruse,

I’d like to point out a few things about your study and my family’s water usage:

1 - Of all the candidates I have the largest lot.
2 - We have an orchard of fruit trees.
3 - To my knowledge I am the only candidate with children living at home (and one is a teenage daughter - need I say more?)
4 - Two weeks ago we discovered a slow underground leak which has now been repaired.
5 - Comparing our water use for the last 12 months to the prior 12 months we have reduced our consumption over 38%. (Had we discovered the slow leak sooner our conservation would have been even greater.)

We’ve made great strides and we’re continuing to make improvements.

Your blog post did give me an idea that I will do my best to implement if elected. In each water bill, the City should provide comparative information so users like myself would have a better idea how their water consumption compares to like-sized lot owners. (Based on conversations with our neighbors we've always thought our water use was about average for our lot size.) That kind of real world information would be most helpful.

Steve Vaus

Dave Grosch said...

Thanks Chris,

Your website is very informative. I have a 21 year old daughter living at home and she loves taking showers. But its not the showers that use most of the water. It's the water we use to make our yards pretty and green. Hopefully next time our City council meets to discuss water rates, their water consumption will be published for all to see. I know some believe lot sizes should dictate how much water they should use. But that is exactly what the problem is. It's the landscaping that uses most of the water. We all have to sacrifice even for those who can afford to pay the high water rates. If you believe only half of what the experts say, water will continue to be a subject of concern for years to come. We all will have to cut back even more.

Chris Cruse said...

Poway (and other southern california communities) have to deal with severe water shortage this year and probably in the next few years. Whether or not we all agree on how we got to this point, or how we should proceed, we were asked to conserve water. The point of this post was to see how those who want to lead us in the future lead by example.

We've lived in Poway for about 35 yrs. We've been through several drought episodes. After one of them, we took out the big lawn and replaced it with a smaller lawn and drought tolerant shrubs. We installed drip irrigation. Other people ripped out their lawns and covered their yard with little rocks. The bleak rockscapes seem to disappear after the drought eases, only to reappear during the next one.

I love pretty yards (and long showers). I think we can still have pretty yards with shade trees, we just have to think about them differently and plant more drought tolerant species.

I've lived here long enough to know that there will always be another drought coming if we are not in one right now. One of my big disappointments is that the city has planned so poorly for that. Take Maderas Golf Course, for example. Maderas was approved with the condition that it use reclaimed water, and drought tolerant landscaping. The drought eased, Maderas switched to more traditional landscaping with lush foilage, a couple of lakes and waterfalls, etc, etc. It has been open 10 yrs and there is no reclaimed water going to Maderas, and nothing is even on the horizon. Instead the city facilitated hooking Maderas up so they could get water deliveries straight from the supplier and at a much cheaper rate than Poway residents pay.

This post was mostly about leading by example, but I am also looking for a leader who can see the "big picture" and long term consequences of the city's decisions. The reclaimed water line should have been in BEFORE the GC went in, before they were allowed to open.

Anonymous said...

Interesting information, but it is impossible to accurately assess a person's water situation with just this data. It is good to see that most come close or exceed the water reduction requirements. A couple don't, but they are difficult to judge without knowing their living situations.

IMO, Mr. Grosch doesn't understand the problem. Wasting water in showers is indeed a symptom of the main problem. We need to use water efficiently. Many so-called high water users use water more efficiently than those on smaller lots; i.e., less water per square foot of property. And yes family size is a factor. Someone living alone spending over 30 minutes under a shower of water in the morning is wasting water; but that behavior can get you a water price discount.--A family of five is doing their part when they use water efficiently by turning the water off until they need it to rinse. We need to use water efficiently based on social norms for how water is used--no matter the size of your property. To this point, no one has outlawed outside landscape.

The current tiered structure is unfair and punitive. Mr. Babich feels it is OK to penalize those with legitimate higher water needs and reward others --those that by circumstance have lower needs and even those in that group that waste water. Based on his comments at a council meeting,the rate structure must be good because it upsets people. No--it's just that people don't like being gouged on the price of a unit of water while others get it for less than cost.

Based on his comments here, Mr. Grosch may agree with Mr. Babich about this. Others have rightfully come out to expose the injustice in the tiered structure: Mr. Vaus, Mr. Mullin, Mr. Kruse, and Mr. Higginson.

The city has set a poor example of efficient water use. One can drive down Poway Rd and other streets and see miles of decorative lawn bordering the roads. There are significant areas of lawn outside municipal buildings. Yet--with these poor examples, city council members still seem to love lecturing citizens about conservation.

Pete Babich said...

I don't remember anyone that says the tiered rate structure is "unfair to large water users" attending any of the water workshops (with the exception of Mayor Higginson and I still don't understand why he changed his position). Council Member Kruse always prefaces his comments with, "I didn't attend the workshops." Both Don and Carl seem to be seeking favor with the GVCA and care less about the business of water management.

I attended all of the water workshops. Here's the situation. By law, the City can't collect more from water consumers than the City pays to purchase the water it delivers. The base rate is computed by dividing the total cost to purchase the water by the total number of units consumed. If that rate is applied to everyone, then you have the flat rate we have used in the past. The City purchases water in a two tiered pricing scheme. If the City consumes more than its allocated amount, then the cost to purchase that water increases by six fold. Last year Poway's consumption was approaching the second tier so an effort was started to investigate different pricing options. The current tired rate structure was adopted. In this structure, if you consume less than the "average" amount you pay a little less than average. If you consume more than the average amount you pay a little more than the average. The total money collected equals the total amount the City pays for water. If everyone started out at the average amount and you had a tiered rate structure, then the City would collect more than it cost to pay for the water, and that's against the law.

The tiered rate structure targeted the biggest source of water consumption. The top 5% of Poway's water customers consume 25% of the water. The top 10% consume 40% of the water. Since the vast majority of water consumed by the top users is sprayed on the ground, it makes perfect sense to create a rate structure that changes that behavior. What people also overlook is regardless of the rate structure used, the cost of raw water has increased 45% of the past two years.

The tiered rate structure has had the desired effect. Poway reduced its water consumption, but it alone is not enough. We need an ongoing education program and landscape design guidelines. We also need to quit pointing fingers at each other and come together as a community instead of acting like spoiled children who didn't get their way. The last thing I want is for Poway to look like Phoenix. If we work together, we can learn how to maintain our lifestyles while using a lot less water.

PS, have any of the people complaining about water cost being unfair to large waters users looked at their electricity bill? It uses the same tiered structure. I guess they are also "subsidizing low electricity users."

Anonymous said...

There were a number of comments (verbal and written) against a tiered structure during the workshops. A common topic at that time, is that many have to landscape and maintain (i.e.,water) slopes for fire and erosion prevention. And in some cases, to prevent damage on neighboring properties.

The fact is, the water workshops were not well publicized. It should be no surprise that more comments surfaced once people heard what was happening. For most, the public notice of a vote was their first warning. There were objections at the workshops, but it took the GVCA and a significant number of objections to get council's attention.

With education and higher "flat" rates, we will conserve. The community has exceeded its goals and those trends started before the rate changes. Mr. Babich said at a council meeting that it was the alternate day watering schedule that had the most impact on him. According to his comment, he had a history of watering every day. (People that know plants know you shouldn't water them every day once established.)

If there is to be a graduated rate, it should be based on efficiency of water use. Penalize those that waste water, not those that simply live on larger lots and those with legitimate, higher water needs.

Mr. Babich wasn't originally in favor of the tiered rate proposal, but changed his mind when he saw that many in the community were upset about it. He showed no concern for their worries or their arguments. Now he is showing disrespect again by saying that those who disagree with him are "acting like spoiled children who didn't get their way". We need council members that treat people and their points-of-view fairly and with respect. We need council members that look for fair solutions --not just quick, politically expedient solutions.

Chris Cruse said...

I've checked online and I found that many other San Diego county cities also charge tiered rates for water use. The main purpose of the tiered rates was to increase conservation in the face of severe cutbacks in water deliveries.

I was aware of the ongoing talks and workshops about tiered water rates in Poway. In fact, GVCA representatives indicated that they were fine with the tiered rates. It was only later, after hearing from some of their members, that the leaders changed course.

The GVCA then made a very-late-in-the-process proposal to the City. I read that proposal, and quite frankly, I found it outrageous. It assumed nobody started conserving until 2006. It would have greatly increased rates for everyone and then offered a rebate to people who could conserve certain amounts of water compared to their 2006 usage. Talk about being punitive! It was designed as a way to offload extra costs onto the smallest water users. The GVCA plan also violates state laws and the MOU that Poway signed with CUWCC.

I can understand that people with huge expanses to water are upset. From what I understand, back in the day, Poway used to give a half price discount to ratepayers who used over 40 units per billing period. It would be wonderful if water was so plentiful and cheap today. But it isn't. Sadly, I think those days are gone forever. Even if we bring in more recycled water and use different technologies to gain greater access to more water, we are probably looking at limited water supplies for a very long time.

Anonymous said...

First off--I did something I don't like to do with my online comments. I reacted to comments someone put on the blog, assuming they came from the person identified by the name posted. In this case "Pete Babich". I have no way of knowing if this is in fact the "Pete Babich" running for the council. The same holds true for the comments here by "Steve Vaus" and "Dave Grosch". My apologies.

--Yes, the GVCA was late to recognize the impact of the tiered rates. Remember-the GVCA is made up of busy homeowners, and it took time for people to realize that they were going to be "screwed" by their city council. Their proposal had its flaws, but they were reacting quickly.

And yes--other cities have used tiered rates. Tiered rates might make sense if you are comparing apples with apples--i.e., in areas where property size and use is similar. This is not the case in Poway. Other utilities use tiered rates--but NOT without protest. And, as I am sure you know, just because someone else does something, it doesn't make it right; and it isn't much of an argument.

When one uses word choices like "I can understand that people with huge expanses to water are upset," It sounds to me like an attempt to put people concerned about these rates out on the fringe. Tell me--when does something become a "huge expanse"? We are not talking about "people with huge expanses", we are talking about good, honest, long standing, community-minded people in Poway that happen to live in areas "zoned" for larger property size. They need to conserve water and are doing their part to conserve. Everyone must conserve and possibly change how they do things. But the tiered rate structure does not equitably promote conservation, and in some low water-use cases offers no motive to conserve.

I don't really want to rehash this here. The topic of this discussion is leadership. I am close, but haven't decided yet who will get my vote for council.--However, I have eliminated those that measure effective regulation by whether it upsets people or not.

Pete Babich said...

I am the Pete Babich running for a seat on the City Council. I don't hide behind pseudonyms; but since Jeff does, I have no idea of who I'm responding to.

I apologize for the "spoiled child" comment. It is not characteristic of my normal style, but it is also a mischaracterization to conclude that I like regulation that "upsets people." I originally didn't think the marginal difference of the tiered rates would have a significant impact on behavior, however when I saw the "uproar" I realized that it "got the attention" of the large water users. That's when I changed my mind. Had the tiered rates not gone into effect, I don't believe we would have achieved the same conservation results.

Jeff, please read the material from the water workshops. Understand the constraints and the goals of the process. If you have a better solution, then I'm willing to consider it. The GVCA proposal did not meet the goals of the process because it ignored prior conservation and would be labor intensive to determine individual baselines.

As for leadership, a key trait is being able to look at the data and define a position regardless of it popularity. It's easy to be a leader when everyone agrees with you; it's more difficult when you are trying to change behavior. I base my positions on data and facts. If the facts and data change or someone points out the error of my analysis, then I am willing to change my position. I don't change my position just because some people don't like my answer.

Feel free to call me.

Chris Cruse said...

Good, honest, long standing, community-minded people live on large lots and also on small lots in Poway. I don't disagree that you can find some profligate people on both large and small lots. But when the water supply was reduced, the City needed to implement some strategy to ensure conservation. The GVCA responded with a proposal that would have given a unique water rate structure that was punitive to small users. (Hmmm- then Poway would have had a water AND sewer rate structure punitive to small users.)

I understand that Poway has zoned a whole lot of land for rural residential use. And that means the good people who bought those properties have huge expanses to landscape. When there is a water shortage and the City implements tiered rates, I don't know how that makes those people less good. Should people living in large houses feel less like good citizens when SDG&E implemented tiered rates? Someone allowed that great big house to be built and maybe whoever allowed it should find a way to subsidize it, is that what you are saying?

Unlike our sewer fee structure, the tiered water rates charge everyone the same rate per unit. A good person on a small lot and a good person on a large lot pay the same rate for their first so many units, and a larger rate for their next so many units, etc. Just like the gas and electricity rate structure.

I think it is a worthwhile question to ask why our leaders approved zoning for such large lots in a community that has dealt with cyclic periods of drought and recurring shortages. And why did they approve a golf course and not require that the golf course get reclaimed water BEFORE they built it. The 2 golf courses in Poway use about 4% of the total fresh water supply in Poway. I also think it is stupid that Poway once approved a water park for the industrial park. Fortunately the water park developers went bankrupt and it wasn't built. Otherwise we would be looking at the rusting hull of some waterslide on Scripps Poway Pkwy right now.

I think our leaders have often been short sighted and have not worked very hard to find sustainable solutions. I'm looking for people with better vision to lead us.

Anonymous said...

Pete Babich--I have spent a lot of time studying the water issue, and I am familiar with what happened during the workshop meetings. I was not impressed with the consultant presentations or their decision process. The presentations just begged for questions--and I don't feel the council properly scrutinized the work. It looked to me like the rate decision had already been made in advance. I sent a number of emails and letters, but never got a response to my concerns. I'm not a GVCA member-but I admire them because only they could get action from the council on these issues. There is strength in numbers.

Also--In these forums, it doesn't matter to me whether someone uses their full name or another label. Most never really know who they are talking to--and it shouldn't matter. IMO, comments should be evaluated on their face; i.e., what is presented in words--hopefully with some way to confirm what they are writing or some facts behind their argument. Otherwise it is just opinion--and that's OK too. (Maybe in this discussion I need to post snippets of council meetings on YouTube to remind people what's been said).

Chris-- I don't like the use of tiered rates without considering more than simply the volume used. No--larger users are not "less good". My point is the opposite. But some in the council--and often you--do seem to vilify users on large properties with higher water needs.

Chris Cruse said...

My goal was not to vilify large lot owners.
My goal was to ask whether our leaders are leading by personal example.

I've also expressed interest on my blog in considering something like the Irvine Ranch Plan where rates are set partially based on lot size. I know the staff is opposed to it because they think it would be too costly to switch. I do not know if that is really true. This may not be to my advantage particularly, but in the interest of fairness, I would be willing to look at it. There is something in me that makes me want to be empathetic to others and be fair.

But, Jeff, please note that the GVCA did not propose something like the Irvine Ranch Plan. They proposed hiking everyone's rates to the highest level possible and then giving a rebate to those who could reduce consumption compared to 2006 usage. I hope you read my blog about Gisela getting billed $71 for using no water at all. When GVCA issued that outlandish proposal and the city spent time and money studying it, it made me angry. There is no empathy on the part of the GVCA for pushing water/sewer bills towards $200 for people getting maybe 10 units of water. And having no real chance to get the rebate. In my mind, that proposal discredited the GVCA. They are not concerned about fairness- only their own advantage. It makes it difficult to seriously consider any proposals from them because they have no sense of fairness.

Dave Grosch said...

This is Dave Grosch. I've read all of your comments and it's obvious there is no easy answer that will satisfy everyone. I'm not an expert on this matter but I hope to further educate myself as time goes by. When most became aware of the water shortage our citizens stepped up and conserved. This was accomplished thru education and by raising the rates. But we are going to have to do more. Taking shorter showers, not shaving in the shower, watering the lawns in the early morning on alternate days, etc are the easy steps to do. But we need to do more. I don't think lot sizes should not matter too much if you have the right landscapping. For myself we decided to save the front lawn and not the back. Now we have mostly rocks in the back. Not as nice as green grass but we will survive. Every family is going to need to step up because we are all in this together. I have heard many times the comment that 10% of the users use 40% of the water sold. Sometimes the devil is in the details.
So awhile back I asked Kristen Crane, who headed the Water Conservation team, about this and here is what she wrote to me, “In researching this, I’ve learned that the top 10% of total water “bills” in 2007-2008 represented 40% of all water sold. This implies that some customers move in and out of the top 10% of water used from billing period to billing period. Customers receive 6 water bills per year. For any given billing period, 10% of all Single-Family Residential (SFR) bills equate to approx 1,240 SFR customers. Looking at 2007-2008, approx 2,700 SFR customers fell into the top 10% of water used at least one billing period”. Now if what she said is correct and if you were to extrapolate those numbers you could say that 20 % of the SFR’s might use as much as 60% of the water sold in Poway. That's just my guess. Again the devil is in the details. But the point is when you have a minority of the home owners using most of the water in the city, those homeowners will have to pay their proportionate share. But I also believe that homeowners who conserve should get rewarded and those who don't should be penalized. But how to do this from an administrative standpoint will be very difficult and expensive because government doesn't do things cheaply...remember the $800k 7 person water conservation team.

I too have read the consultants report. I would prefer less reports by outside consultants. Sometimes we spend too much of our money on "so-called experts" who have no stake or interest in Poway. We have a wealth of knowledge in Poway. I'm sure we could find many qualified volunteers across all of Poway to form a committee to make recommedations to our City council members. At least we could funnel all of this energy for the good of the city and let them be part of the solution. And when they sit down to discuss water rates , sewer rates should be on the table as well. Just a thought.

Anonymous said...

Chris--I too favor something like what I've heard is being done by Irvine Ranch, and I expressed that many times to the city during the water debate. The city, based on what the consultant told them, labeled this type of plan "too complicated" or "too expensive" without, IMO, really looking closely. In hindsight, I feel the city was looking for something quick and cheap-to-implement, and something that gave the impression they were serious about conservation. Fairness was a much lower priority. In time, I hope the city does look more closely at some type of "water budget" plan.

Personally--I don't yet see a need for everyone to have rock landscapes. And--wherever one sits with respect to percentage of total city water used, only a flat rate charge per unit of water ensures one fairly pays their proportionate share.

Water conservation is our goal. But the word "conservation" is a loaded term. What does it mean? Does conserving mean you only use less water--no matter how you use it? Or does conserving mean you use less water by using water more efficiently? And how is efficiency judged? The city has failed to properly define what "conservation" means in the City of Poway. Yes-their new rate schedule implies many things, but you don't have to look far to find contradictions. The City of Poway, IMO, has so far failed to define a comprehensive water conservation policy.