Letter: It’s time to conserve water and save money

Letter to the editor

Posted by on Wed, May 24, 2006

Coastside County Water District (CCWD) has recently announced another water rate increase, 7 % this time around.  At its May 16 meeting the City Council chose to schedule the issue of water conservation for the very end of a lengthy agenda.  This is the time when most of the audience has gone home, the councilmembers, staff, and any remaining members of the audience are tired, and the viewing public has probably either turned off their TV or changed channels.

As I have stated repeatedly, providing homebuilders with the tools to save money and water in designing their landscapes is a very much-needed service.  Frequently, these new residents are unaware of our prolonged dry season, recurring droughts, and the not too distant future of doubling water rates.

The discussion of how the city could address the needs of home and landscape designers in a climate of decreasing supplies and hugely escalating costs of water was originally scheduled, for the April 13th joint meeting of the City Council, the Planning Commission, and the Architectural Review Committee.  The joint meeting was, however, almost exclusively devoted to an ethics-training workshop, and although I had a chance to speak about the issue, there was no time for discussion or action.
Now, a month l later, the Planning Department recommends that the council take no action on the issue and that it should be sent back to the Planning Commission for analysis, study, and recommendation.

Applicants for single residence CDP’s have presumably had to abide by the condition “any landscape improvement shall apply xeriscape principles for drought resistance and to reduce water consumption”.  However this dictate has been largely ignored.  Many designs have come forward for Planning Commission approval in which lawn areas in the front, back, and side yards were the predominant landscape feature. I first brought up the discrepancy between what was on paper and what was routinely approved on the ground more than a year ago.  How many more months or years will pass while the Planning Department and the Planning Commission toss this issue around? 

While the Planning Commission is pondering the issue, the City Council could have chosen to allow their standing resolution of 1993 to at least partially fill the gap.  All they had to do was to remove a single sentence: “These guidelines shall not be applied to single family residential projects involving no common area landscaping” They did not do that.

In the meantime, how many more water-intensive landscapes will continue to drain our watershed as well as the bank accounts of unwary residents?


Sophia
Good letter.
Since the cost of water is tied to energy costs and there is a well publicized need for infrastructure improvements to hetch-hetchy, it is not surprising that rates are going up.

Future rate increases could be structured to improve water conservation by severely penalizing users who go over a certain threshold.
The current tiering structure does not do enough to encourage efficient irrigation or landscaping.  I would say that doubling the rate for residential customers who use more than 25% over average for their meter size would do the trick. Use the cash to buy irrigation moisture sensors and send them out to people with high bills.

We have a moisture sensor ($25) that turns off our irrigation when it is not needed and that keeps our water consuption on the low end. Drip irrigation also saves a lot of water. Here on the coast the ground stays wet for days when the fog is in; I have a feeling that many people over water. The District could mandate these devices as they do low flow toilets but enforcement would be difficult.

retrofit hot water circulation pumps are now available that put unheated water from the hot pipe back into the cold pipe until it gets hot, then a valve flips so that no water is wasted trying to get the water warm. these install under a sink but you need 110v to do it. The traditional circulation pumps have the disadvantage of heating all the hot water pipes in the house, wasting a lot of energy while saving water

Tim

Ms. Freer,

I agree with you 100% that conservation education (both water AND energy) should be a priority.  What I do not agree with is your attempt to essentially legislate yet another requirement on homeowners.  Obviously, this disagreement stems from a fundamental difference in opinion on the role of government.

Perhaps your time/efforts would be better spent on spreading the word on how people can best educate themselves, avail themselves of rebates for things like old toilets and find more resources on landscape planning.

Tim’s ideas and practices are spot on the mark.  Our water heater is plugged into a timer.  Our sprinklers are currently on “rain” due to Sunday’s relative deluge.  The lawn was still a tad soggy when I cut it last night.  People GET IT.

By the way, your letter did prompt me to get over my writer’s block.  I started drafting my letter voicing my “approval” of the proposed increase in water rates.

Economic incentives aren’t sufficient to get us to conserve water. There’s plenty of evidence that without genuinely punishing price increases, the raising the cost of wasting water isn’t enough to make a real difference.

As a former resident of Phoenix,  I know that in Scottsdale, AZ, desert landscaping used to the norm. Now, every property wants to look like a golf course. In a desert city that relies on ground water!

Water resources don’t increase in nice, smooth curves. They require huge investments. And they’re not reliable. Some years we have less water than others. Creating huge investments in landscaping that sucks up large amounts of water creates a vested interest for waste and sets our baseline use of our limited water resources way too high.

I’m not recommending any particular solution at this point, but it would be a mistake to dismiss alternatives out of hand.

unfortunatly, people are going to plant what they want to plant and you cannot regulate every bush, tree, or blade of grass that goes in the ground.  You can pass an ordinace on new construction landscaping plans but they then you are excluding all other water users. Also, on the day after a new house is finaled people can plant anything they want anyway.  I guess we could hire plant police and have them go around inspecting every now and then.

So punishing people who use too much water is exactly what needs to be done. Economic incentives or deterents are used for all kinds of behavoir modification and they would work with water consumption.  Use the revenue from penalties to build conservation technology, infrastructure and education.

Tim

I am no advocate of strong-arming property owners into responsible water use.  My major objective is for the City to provide landscape design guidelines for residents and to provide strong motivation for landscape design professionals to become inventive rather than to rely on the easy and unimaginative use of lawn surrounded by the typical border of flowers and shrubs.
 
These measures would not preclude refining the water rate structure to increase rewards for those who use less water.

I recently had a short discussion on xeriscape with Steve Kikuchi, the new landscape design professional on the ARC.  His position was similar to Mr. Pond’s.  What’s the use of placing demands on individual home owners if they can later choose to rip up a duly conforming lanscape in favor of a lawn and water-intensive plants of their choosing?  My short answer is that, given a pleasing design, most homeowners will not choose to rip it up, and if we lose a few skirmishes at least we have an offensive in place to fight the water battle.

I would think that CCWD would be championing water conservation, but other than having brochures available upon request, they have been monumentally silent.  Perhaps they would rather keep on increasing water rates of current rate payers, so they can increase their already high cash reserves and pour money into infrastructure for future development.