The old fish ladder at San Clemente Dam
Anyone who has attended a public meeting related to water on the Monterey Peninsula in recent years knows what happens when an ignoramus member of the public gets up and suggests that water conservation measures, even if they can’t completely solve our water problems, could still free up water at a lot less expense than desalination. Couldn’t conservation measures be implemented quickly, reducing our reliance on illegal diversions from the Carmel River long before a desal plant comes on line? Wouldn’t conservation significantly reduce the amount we’ll eventually be stuck paying to desalt seawater?
Whenever such a statement is made, those in the know smirk and shake their heads at the speaker’s embarrassing naivete, while the public officials in attendance leap up to explain that, while they are huge supporters of water conservation, the plain fact of the matter is that the Monterey Peninsula has already done pretty much everything humanly possible to conserve water and that there simply isn’t anything more to be done and that this is proved by the fact that residents of the Monterey Peninsula use less water per capita than anyone else in the state.
This dynamic was on display again last week when the Monterey County Weekly noted that the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District’s effort to implement state-mandated water conservation seemed to focus more on congratulating Peninsula residents on what they’ve already achieved, than on issuing a call for greater conservation. In response, the District’s General Manager, Dave Stoldt, fired off a letter to the editor that, as per the usual script, began, “Are you aware that residents of the Monterey Peninsula use less water per person per day than anywhere else in the state?”
So how much water do the residents of the Monterey Peninsula use compared to our water-wasting neighbors? Last year, the Water District produced a helpful chart showing Peninsula residents using an average of 62 gallons per capita per day compared to 97 gallons per day in San Francisco, 143 gallons per day in San Diego, etc. Impressive, isn’t it?
There’s just one thing. The numbers for the other cities seem to come straight from the state’s water use database. They include all water used by a particular water system for both residential and commercial purposes. The Monterey Peninsula figure, on the other hand, is not the Monterey Peninsula figure from that same database (which happens to be a much less impressive 144 gallons per person per day), but the amount the Water District calculates is consumed for residential use alone. In other words, they appear to have created a false comparison, by subtracting commercial use to obtain the Monterey Peninsula figure, but leaving commercial use in for everyone else. Tricky, isn’t it?
At 144 gallons per person per day, the Monterey Peninsula Cal-Am service area actually comes in an embarrassing 68th in the state for water conservation, lagging behind not only San Francisco and San Diego, but also Santa Cruz, Watsonville, Soledad, Morro Bay, and dozens more. Not much to brag about.
But how do we compare if we look at residential use only? That’s hard to say since there doesn’t appear to be any statewide database tracking residential use alone, but a quick Google search reveals that San Francisco calculates its residential water use at somewhere between 54-58 gallons per capita per day and Santa Cruz weighs in at 61 gallons per person per day. So much for using “less water per person per day than anywhere else in the state.”
So if we aren’t necessarily the greatest water conservationists in the state, what can we do to save more?
A 2011 report prepared by students at CSUMB’s Watershed Institute provides some clues. They found that fixing leaks and installing ultra low flow devices on the Monterey Peninsula could save as much as 2,584 acre feet per year, that rainwater harvesting could save up to 2,971 acre feet per year, that gray-water recycling could save as much as 3,011 acre feet per year, and so on.
In other words, most of the 10,730 acre feet water deficit we’re trying to make up could probably be achieved by conservation measures alone and spending $500 million on a desal plant is probably not actually necessary to keep the Monterey Peninsula in business.
But all this is most definitely NOT open to discussion because as everyone knows the residents of the Monterey Peninsula have done more than any people in history to save water and simply can’t be asked to do anything, however painless, to use less. And don’t forget. Anyone who questions the Monterey Peninsula’s preeminence in the field of water conservation will be personally responsible if the State Water Resources Control Board cuts off our water.
UPDATE: November 5, 2014
Turns out the state has just started asking urban water suppliers to report residential use and the first figures, from September, have just been released. These numbers will, of course, be more meaningful when they can be averaged over a number of months, but the September figures show residents of Cal-Am’s Monterey Peninsula service area using 49.7 gallons per person per day, good enough to earn us a 7th place tie with East Palo Alto in the water conservation sweepstakes. The six cities where residential customers used less than the Monterey Peninsula in September were San Diego, Santa Cruz, Daly City, East Los Angeles, South San Francisco, and, coming in first at only 45.7 gallons per person per day, San Francisco itself.
Clearly, water conservation on the Monterey Peninsula looks much more impressive when only residential users are considered, even if we are not, by any measure, using “less water per person per day than anywhere else in the state.” Maybe it’s time to acknowledge that both residents and businesses really should be doing more. That might be the first step toward turning the boasts of our officials into something resembling reality.
See yesterday’s LA Times article on the release of the new residential use figures.