Jun 28 2014

ANALYSIS: Time to Reduce Water Usage

Clear as Mud – 

Strange that we’re in a third year of drought with significant loss of snowpack in the Sierras – and few communities around the Bay Area have instituted mandatory water rationing.

In fact, Governor Brown’s request in January for a voluntary 20 percent cutback in water usage statewide was amended a month later by our East Bay Municipal Utility District, (EBMUD), to a voluntary cutback to 10%,  http://www.berkeleyside.com/2014/02/12/ebmud-asks-east-bay-customers-to-cut-water-use-by-10/  And, most recently, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, (SFPUC), the largest water district in the Bay Area, announced in an article by Paul Rogers in the Oakland Tribune that water-saving goals have been met and there will be no mandatory water rationing this summer:   http://www.contracostatimes.com/news/ci_26019792/bay-areas-largest-water-district-say-no-mandatory

Is that so?  Apparently yes, according to Harlan Kelly, General Manager of the SFPUC, “There’s no doubt that we had a slow start, but I’m happy to report water use in the past several weeks has declined, and we are making up for lost time.”  He went on to say that essentially, the agency had met its goal of 10 percent voluntary conservation from January to May.  Done deal.

But Rogers points out in his article that a good portion of this water “savings” is based on the PUC’s higher estimation for water usage in this time period; thus, providing a 10 percent “reduction.”  In comparing actual water usage, however: this year’s usage compared to last year’s reflects less than 1 percent of water reduction.

Jay Land, Director of the Center for Watershed Sciences at UC Davis, suggests in the article that most water districts in the Bay Area still have “…fairly ample water supplies; it’s not dire for them yet.”  Let’s also remember: water districts are in the business of selling water.

  If we achieve our voluntary 10 percent water reduction figure set by EBMUD, the agency stands to lose 8 million dollars.

But to be fair, Bay Area communities have reduced water consumption over the years; EBMUD reports an 11 percent decrease in usage last year alone, and, overall, districts purchasing Hetch Hetchy water, which supplies 26 cities and private companies, have coordinated a steady reduction of consumption by 17 percent in the last 10 years. And this reduction has occurred as population in the region increased by 4 percent.  Good news; except, as other parts of the state have experienced severe water shortages and instituted mandatory cutbacks on water,http://mashable.com/2014/05/16/california-drought-residents/ – we in the Bay Area, and specifically in Piedmont, should consider this a wake-up call and take meaningful steps now in reducing water consumption by 10 percent in our city and homes.  EBMUD, in fact, offers different programs in conserving water, as reported by the PCA a few weeks ago:  http://www.piedmontcivic.org/2014/06/12/please-conserve-even-more-water/

But why, some of you still may wondering, should we consider mandatory water rationing when we have reduced consumption and our local water supply is okay?  Because the Sierra snowpack, providing a third of the state’s water – and all of ours, is compromised; down 32 percent from its average and at the lowest level since 1988.

In an excellent article, “From Mountaintop to Water Tap,” in Sunday’s Tribune on June 22, writer Lisa M. Krieger describes how Department of Water Resources engineer, Frank Gehrke, straps on cross country skis and trudges up the thin air on Mount Dana.  At 13,061 feet, it’s one of the highest peaks in the Tuolumne River watershed and it’s here where a tiny sensor records snowfall data. Gehrke checks the sensor and snowpack levels several times a year, but the most important recording is taken on April 1, before part of the pack melts and wends its way some 300 miles to the Bay Area.

This year, the sensor revealed 16.8 inches of snowpack, or just 40 percent of the historic annual average of 42 inches.  And it’s this snowpack, measured on Mt. Dana, that forms the basis for yearly water allocations and “drives the whole economy,” says Gehrke.  Moreover, measurements recording water flow taken miles downstream in Yosemite revealed a flow at just 81 cubic feet per second compared to usual spring flows ripping downstream at 300 to 1,000 cubic feet per second.  And if we still need convincing that our lawns should be reconsidered, Krieger reports that the ice pack on Lyell Glacier, the largest in Yosemite, has decreased by 60 percent since 1900. Discovered by John Muir in 1871, one wonders how long it will be around.

Taking into account these findings and prolonged drought conditions, it’s my intention to feature Piedmonters and city staff in a series of articles who are developing practical and ecologically responsible ways to respond to the very real demands of our changing environment, which include reduced water.

Your comments and input are crucial to the discussion.

Denise Bostrom, Piedmont Resident


One Response to “ANALYSIS: Time to Reduce Water Usage”

  1. My drought actions:

    – shorter showers, fewer flushes
    – collect 2 gallons of “warm-up” water each morning to use around the house and garden
    -cut off srpinklers and starting to use the 1000 gallons of water I collected during the rain season
    – waiting for the city to release its water audit to see what it is doing to cut back on water use

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