The Sorry State of Water Conservation on the Monterey Peninsula

For years local officials have waived off suggestions that the Monterey Peninsula could do more to save water by falsely claiming that “residents of the Monterey Peninsula use less water per person per day than anywhere else in the state.” They’ve even gone so far as to publish fraudulent figures purporting to support this claim.

The purpose of this grandiose bragging has been to promote approval of as large and growth-inducing a new water project, whether dam or desal, as possible. That effort appears to have succeeded, but at the cost of undercutting efforts to increase water conservation.

And conservation is important. Even if you don’t care about the survival of the Carmel River steelhead, you ought to care about the impression our conservation efforts, or lack thereof, are making on the State Water Resources Control Board. The SWRCB, after all, is currently considering whether or not to give us some relief from the December 31, 2016 deadline for ending our reliance on illegal Carmel River diversions. The SWRCB made it crystal clear, back in 2008, that they wanted to see increased conservation and other serious efforts to reduce reliance on the Carmel River implemented right away, long before a major project, like a desal plant, is brought on line. No doubt they will be curious to see how well we’re doing.

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January rains have put some water in the streams (in this case the Nacimiento River), but wet or dry, the Monterey Peninsula needs to conserve.

While it may never have been true that Peninsula residents use less water than anyone else in the state, there was a time, only a little over a year ago, when it at least looked like we were making a serious effort. Our conservation results in late 2014 were something we could have presented to the SWRCB without embarrassment. Today, that’s no longer true.

We start in September 2014 because that is when California began requiring all water systems in the state to calculate monthly residential water use on a per person per day basis. During that month, Peninsula residents used an average of 49.7 gallons per person per day; a figure low enough to put the Monterey Peninsula in 7th place statewide. Not the best, but still not bad.

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September 2014 was parched and dry, but residents still limited themselves to an average of 49.7 gallons per person per day.

In October 2014, the Peninsula shaved that figure to 48.3 gallons per person per day, maintaining a 7th place ranking statewide.

In November 2014, consumption dropped to 41.4 gallons per person per day, moving the Peninsula into 6th place.

In December 2014, Peninsula residents nearly made the boasts of local officials a reality by collapsing water use all the way down to a stingy 33 gallons per person per day; 2nd place statewide by only a fraction of a gallon. An impressive achievement heavily covered by the local press.

But that all changed as 2015 began and, as might be expected, our failures have received little, if any, press attention.

We used 52 gallons per person per day in January and February, good enough for only 32nd and 29th statewide.

That increased to 54.2 gallons per person per day and 44th overall in March.

While we increased consumption to 55.8 gallons per person per day in April, hot weather in the interior helped us improve to, a still rather unimpressive, 29th overall.

The climb continued in May, as we hit 58.8 gallons per person per day, dropping to 48th place statewide.

Things got still worse in June, at 66.1 gallons per person per day, and an embarrassing 57th overall.

July checked in at 67.4 gallons per person per day, holding the Peninsula at 57th overall.

Finally, in August, our consumption actually dropped a little, coming in at 66.4 gallons per person per day; good enough for 49th.

Surely we would see a much more significant drop in September. After all, we got through the hot, dry September of 2014 using only 49.7 gallons per person per day.

So how did we do in September 2015? How about a water-hogging 70.3 gallons per person per day and a humiliating 69th place statewide? How could that be?

Well, September 2015 was even hotter and drier than September 2014 on the Monterey Peninsula; the second and third hottest Septembers on record (thanks, global warming), but still… an increase of over 20 gallons per person per day is hard to blame on a difference that only amounts to a few degrees and less than half an inch of rain.

In October, consumption dropped to 62.7 gallons per person per day, which sounds better than it was, since it still earned the Monterey Peninsula its worst ever statewide ranking at 70th. That’s over 14 gallons per person per day worse than the Peninsula did in October 2014; a drop from 7th to 70th in a single year. It did rain slightly more in October 2014 and it stayed a little warmer at night in 2015, but still… 7th place to 70th?

Finally, in November, we got a month where 2015 conditions were clearly more favorable for water conservation than what we had in 2014. Less than 1.5 inches of rain in 2014, but more than 3.5 inches in 2015. Above average temperatures in 2014, below average temperatures in 2015. So how did we do?

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November 2014 was less rainy than 2015, but for reasons of their own, mushrooms, like this delectable porcini liked it better. Resident’s meanwhile, did a much better job conserving water than they would a year later.

In November 2014 we used just 41.4 gallons per person per day and were the 6th best water conservationists in the state. But in November 2015, in more favorable conditions, we could only manage 50.5 gallons per person per day; a total that left us languishing in 40th place overall.

Coming off of that lackluster performance, it was pretty clear we weren’t going to match the 33 gallons per person per day and 2nd place overall achieved in December 2014; numbers that were probably greatly aided by nearly 10 inches of rain that fell in December 2014; the second rainiest December on record for the Monterey Peninsula.

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Matsutakes burst from the sodden forest floor during 2014’s heavy December rains.

What we did achieve in December 2015 was 46.7 gallons per person per day and 39th place overall. A little better than November, but nothing to cheer about.

The January figures aren’t in yet but, thanks to a rainy January, it shouldn’t be hard to do better than the 52 gallons per person per day used in January 2015. It would be nice to finally see an improvement over the previous year.

The essential facts are these:

Wet year or dry, water conservation is critically important on the Monterey Peninsula.

Contrary to popular belief, we are not the best water conservationists in the state.

Our water conservation efforts, both in terms of gallons used per person per day, and in comparison to other communities around the state, got significantly worse in 2015.

There is a lot of room for improvement (during the drought in the late 1970’s, the Monterey Peninsula, even without today’s low-flow fixtures, and even during hot dry weather, reduced its consumption to 30 gallons per person per day).

A little more attention paid to these facts might go a long way toward turning things around.

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4 Responses to The Sorry State of Water Conservation on the Monterey Peninsula

  1. bigsurkate says:

    Great presentation of the FACTS, as usual, XT. Thank you. Personally, I have been averaging about 25 gals a day … Less in winter, more in summer, but overall, about 25. If everyone had to carry their water for a year … Well the shape of consumption would drastically change.

  2. Frank Emerson says:

    And to add to the disappointment, sorry to have to report, MPWMD has recently told the SWRCB that they are “fully mitigating” the impact of water diversions on the rivers threatened steelhead population. Even though the Sleepy Hollow rearing facility has not operated for a few years and may not this year either.

  3. dave says:

    Not to defend them but I have to fill out those reports for my two small water systems also and they’re a nightmare. I can only imagine it’s really tricky for a municipality. Obviously, it’s all about getting ‘correct’ figures for gallons of water and numbers of people. If they were massaging the numbers you’d think 2015 numbers would show a decrease.

  4. James Katt says:

    Kill the golf courses and farms and hotel lawns. Then Monterey water use will definitely go down. The economy will also tank and unemployment will go up but who cares. Poor people can’t afford water.

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