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Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2007 | With the threat of water shortages looming next year, City Council President Scott Peters has implored residents to save every drop they can.
In an Aug. 14 column printed in the La Jolla Light, Peters urged residents to conserve 20 gallons of water each day. “Twenty gallons may sound like a lot,” he wrote, “but saving that amount of water is relatively easy.”
Peters has not been heeding his own advice.
Peters and his family use about 7.5 times more water than the typical San Diego household, according to public records obtained by voiceofsandiego.org. While a typical San Diego residence uses 10,472 gallons a month, the Peters homestead averages 80,410 gallons. No elected city official uses more water than Peters. His family has steadily increased its water consumption each year since 2005.
Peters, his wife and two children consumed 923,000 gallons of water last year. The average San Diego home used 125,600 in that time, according to city Water Department estimates.
Each month, Peters’ household uses as much water as the homes of City Councilmen Ben Hueso, Jim Madaffer, Kevin Faulconer, Tony Young and Brian Maienschein — combined.
Part of Peters’ water is used for irrigating a wooded 20,298-square foot parcel (with landscaping and a tennis court) that sits adjacent to his home. He uses more water to keep the landscaping green — 15,000 gallons monthly — than the typical San Diego family uses for a month’s worth of laundry, showers, irrigation and dishwashing.
Peters is not alone in his heavy water use. Mayor Jerry Sanders, who has led calls for water conservation this summer, uses about 40 percent more water than a typical household. Five other city officials — Hueso, Faulconer, Madaffer, Maienschein and Young — also consume more water than typical San Diegans.
While above average, Hueso, Faulconer and Young have reduced their water use this year. Faulconer said he had reduced the frequency of his irrigation. “With the looming water cuts, everybody’s going to have to do even more,” he said.
Madaffer and Maienschein both saw their use increase. Madaffer is the second largest water consumer on the council, using 27,952 gallons of water monthly. That’s 2.5 times above average. His spokeswoman did not return calls for comment.
Only City Councilwoman Donna Frye and City Attorney Mike Aguirre use less water than a typical home. Individual totals for other city officials — Toni Atkins, Chief Financial Officer Jay Goldstone and Independent Budget Analyst Andrea Tevlin — could not be determined because they live in multi-unit complexes without individual water meters. Goldstone no longer lives in city limits.
voiceofsandiego.org obtained the records through a California Public Records Act request; the documents are public because the officials set city water rates and other policies.
Sanders and Peters have both advocated for residents to increase their water conservation as the region faces possible water shortages next year. While his consumption is above average, Sanders has been conserving. His water usage statistics show that his water use dropped 20 percent from 2006. Bill Harris, a spokesman for Sanders, declined comment.
City officials continue using high amounts of water as policymakers across the state have increased their calls for water conservation. All of San Diego’s major water supplies are facing dry conditions. The Colorado River is in its eighth year of drought. Earlier this month, a federal judge ordered a cut in supplies from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, which delivers snowmelt from the Sierra Nevada. The Northern California mountain range endured one of its driest winters on record this year.
The Los Angeles-based Metropolitan Water District, which has estimated the court-ordered reductions may trim delta supplies by a third, says some San Diego agricultural users will begin seeing cutbacks in January.
Pam Hardy, a spokeswoman for Peters, said the council president has taken steps to reduce water use by adding drought resistant plants and timed irrigation. She said the size of his property, a 34,848-square-foot lot at the base of Mount Soledad, was responsible for his higher consumption. Peters was out of the country and unavailable for comment.
“His house is much larger than the average house,” Hardy said. “He has much more landscaping. … But it’s a big house, and they have two teenage kids.”
But the size of a home doesn’t impact how much water is used inside. The city’s Water Department points to two determining factors: the number of people living in the home and its landscaping. Spokesmen for Hueso and Maienschein both pointed to the size of the council members’ families — Hueso has four children, Maienschein has two — as being responsible for their elevated water use.
Bruce Reznik, executive director of San Diego Coastkeeper, said Peters and Madaffer had both been advocates for conservation and water recycling. He called on both to make a pledge to cut their water use in coming months.
“A lot of people are going to dismiss what’s a good message because of the hypocrisy on their part,” Reznik said. “What they’re saying is right. People do need to conserve. I hope that good message isn’t lost in the saying, ‘Do as I say, not as I do.’”
Hardy said Peters would make an effort to reduce his water usage in the future, though she would not commit to a specific percentage.
“The threat of mandatory rationing was a wakeup call for all of us,” she said. “We haven’t had to be as vigilant the last couple of years. It’s time to be serious. Scott is trying to sound the alarm in the community as well as at home.”
Not every city official consumes water at above-average rates. Frye, who uses 8,670 gallons a month, said she has no lawn, waters her plants by hand and has installed low-flow toilets.
“When I was growing up, it was: ‘Conserve water, shower with a friend,’” Frye said. “We just don’t leave water running.”
Aguirre uses a scant 3,740 gallons each month, the least of any public official. The city attorney said he had made a concerted effort to reduce his consumption.
“Once you realize that San Diego is a desert community, then you really understand that a water shortage is coming and we’re going to be hit much harder than other communities that are better situated,” Aguirre said. “I’m mindful of it. I try to take quick showers. That may be why I look so disheveled.”
Please contact Rob Davis directly with your thoughts, ideas, personal stories or tips. Or send a letter to the editor.