Ideas flow towards saving scarce water

Ideas flow towards saving scarce water
Water leaders from across North County met on July 16 to discuss obstacles and highlight achievements in water conservation and supply. Photo by Ellen Wright

REGION — San Diego’s largest water supplier, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, just lost a major ruling on Wednesday to the San Diego County Water Authority, which sells water to regional water districts throughout San Diego.

The district owes the Water Authority $188.3 million plus interest for overcharging the region, which will translate to cheaper water rates in the coming years.

Mention of the ruling drew loud applause from attendees at the North County Economic Water Summit held Thursday at the Vista Civic Center, although good news at the summit was nearly as scarce as water in the state.

Water leaders from across North County painted a bleak picture of the drought’s effects and government regulations while also offering hope and solutions to the current water state.

General Manager of the San Diego County Water Authority Maureen Stapleton spoke of the importance of diversifying the water supply.

In 1991, San Diego was getting 95 percent of its water from the district in Riverside.

Senior Plant Director of Biologics James Kasselmann speaks to the audience at the North County Economic Water Summit. Water leaders from across North County met July 16 to discuss obstacles and highlight achievements in water conservation and supply. Photo by Ellen Wright

Senior Plant Director of Biologics James Kasselmann speaks to the audience at the North County Economic Water Summit. Water leaders from across North County met July 16 to discuss obstacles and highlight achievements in water conservation and supply. Photo by Ellen Wright

After a major drought and the threat of getting cut off by 50 percent, the water authority worked towards securing new supplies to reduce dependency.

These efforts included lining the Coachella Canal to prevent leakage, water conservation, expanding recycled water and a groundbreaking deal with the Imperial Irrigation District.

Since 1990, residents have reduced their water usage 31 percent.

San Diego has reduced its reliance on the district by 49 percent.

It will reduce the supply 30 percent by 2020, once the Carlsbad Desalination plant is online.

Peter MacLaggan, vice president of Poseidon Water, said the desalination plant is 94 percent complete.

“We’re just a few short months away from that first sip of water from the Pacific Ocean,” MacLaggan said.

Another step the region is taking towards improving the water supply is increasing the recycled water network through the San Elijo Joint Powers Authority.

General Manager of the San Elijo Joint Powers Authority Michael Thornton spoke about the regional partnership, which includes water districts from coastal Del Mar to Camp Pendleton and expanding inland to Escondido.

Currently North County is recycling and reusing about 3.5 billion gallons of water a year.

The joint powers authority aims to do more.

“It’s impressive, but we felt it wasn’t good enough. We needed to do more,” said Thornton.

Over the next 10 years, the authority hopes to double the amount of recycled water that is being produced today. In 20 years, the authority hopes to quadruple it.

Authority members look to do this by expanding and integrating the recycled water network and “using science and technology to purify water that was once used and reintegrate it into the drinking water system,” he said.

The majority of San Diego’s residential water usage is used for irrigation, at 60 percent, which is more than California’s average of 39 percent. Globally, people use an average of 8 percent of water for irrigation.

Dr. Wesley Schultz, professor and interim dean for Graduate Studies at California State University San Marcos, said the there is a problem with not just conservation measures, but getting the message out about them.

“The commonly used strategies to promote water conservation have been largely ineffective,” Schultz said.

Behaviorally, people aren’t changing much.

“The savings that we’ve achieved have largely been in the area of efficiency,” he said, like that in water-efficient appliances and the transportation of water.

He said it’d be more effective to use collective action messages instead of the currently used messages of “do things differently.”

Most of the panelists agreed that state regulations were a hindrance after the San Diego Water Authority worked hard to reduce water consumption.

“In San Diego, we do not have a water drought, we have a regulatory drought,” said Stapleton. “It is totally frustrating that we’ve made this investment, we’ve done the right thing, we’ve actually followed the governor’s water action plan to a ‘T’. We did it and now we’re not being rewarded.”

President of the San Diego Building Industry Association Borre Winckel also called government regulations difficult.

He said 40 cents of every dollar used for development goes towards government regulation fees.

Winckel also said that newer housing is necessary because it’s more water efficient than old infrastructure, so by getting people into newer homes, it reduces water consumption.

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