Are Local Officials Cooking the Books to Dismiss Water Conservation?


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.




5 Responses to Are Local Officials Cooking the Books to Dismiss Water Conservation?

  1. John Dalessio says:

    Thanks, Keith. In about 1970, when drilling off the coast was being argued, I figured that we could save the same amount of oil that we anticipated from the drilling by insulating attics. I testified to this, giving the figures and analysis before a state assembly committee (Alan Seroty, chair).They adopted the idea, using tax relief and grants, and we would up with warmer homes and less fossil fuel waste.
    Let’s get your analysis before Monning, Stone and Farr and see if it flies.

  2. Valley Dude says:

    There is already a fair penetration of low-flow residential fixtures, but much more can be done – including making them free and (gasp) installation paid for by a rebate on the water bill. Same with installing rain barrels – free and an installation rebate. Far cheaper than a C/A someday desal plant! Thanks for the clarity on the water use calcs! And C/A: fix the bloody leaks in your ancient water mains!

  3. Intersted Party says:

    I know for a fact that the MPWMD offers a ton of free water saving devices and fixtures to District residents as well as rebates to residents and businesses. As far as the rest, I’ll have to do some research!

  4. reverend dick says:

    Thoughts on Marina’s attempt to block the desal test well?

  5. xasauan says:

    Should probably do a whole post on that subject, Reverend.

    Marina’s more development-minded contingent, including the old guard from the Marina Coast Water District are still severely butt-hurt over the collapse of the previous desal project. Something for which they only have themselves to blame, since they allowed their District to be used as a conduit for the illegal payments to Steve Collins that ended up croaking the project.

    The loss of that project is painful to them because it would have provided water for Marina and new development at Ft. Ord almost entirely at the expense of Monterey Peninsula ratepayers (as explained in detail in many posts on this site). They are still in court trying to get a ruling that those agreements remain valid, and their ultimate goal is to get a similar deal into the new project (otherwise they, and Ft. Ord developers, may have to actually pay for their own water). This means they welcome anything that improves their bargaining position by giving them leverage over Cal-Am and the Monterey Peninsula – which the power to significantly delay the project certainly would. This is why the Marina Coast Water District is suing the Coastal Commission over their decision to override the Marina City Council and approve the permit.

    But it wasn’t the old guard from the Marina Coast Water District who refused to issue a permit for the test well in the first place. It was the progressive majority (David Brown, Gail Morton and Frank O’Connell) who made that happen. Their attitude, as explained to me by someone who attended the hearing, seemed to boil down to “a failure to plan on your part does not constitute an emergency on our part.” They felt that a project of that type would not be approved under normal circumstances without more complete environmental work and did not see why they should bend the rules just because Cal-Am and the Monterey Peninsula have failed to take action in time to meet the State Water Board deadline. They were also clearly irritated by the imperious attitude of Peninsula mayors and other officials who, more or less, demanded that they immediately issue the permits. Had Peninsula officials shown a little humility and asked a little more nicely, it looked to some like they might have saved themselves the additional delay and trip to the Coastal Commission.

    If that had happened, then the Marina Coast Water District would have needed to sue the Marina City Council, I guess.

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