Tuesday, July 22, 2008 | City Council President Scott Peters is finally using less water.

The man whose household consumed more than 1 million gallons of drinking water in 2007 — despite promises to curb consumption — saw water use decline 32 percent at his La Jolla home in the first half of 2008.

If Peters’ water savings continue, he will use about 650,000 gallons this year — five times more than the average San Diego household, but far less than he has used previously.

Peters is still the heaviest water user among the city’s elected officials, a fact that he had blamed on size of his 1.2-acre property. His household uses as much water to keep landscaping green in a side lot at his home as the average San Diegan family uses for a month’s worth of laundry, showers, irrigation and dishwashing. He has used as much water this year as the households of Mayor Jerry Sanders and Council members Kevin Faulconer, Donna Frye, Brian Maienschein, Ben Hueso and Tony Young combined.

After voiceofsandiego.org highlighted his heavy use last summer, Peters had a professional water audit conducted at his home to look for ways to cut consumption. He replaced two showerheads with low-flow varieties and repaired a water leak. And he installed new irrigation meters with weather sensors and promised to water his drought-resistant plants less.

That didn’t translate into immediate savings. Five months later, Peters’ consumption had increased. He has now reversed that trend. Peters declined comment through a spokeswoman.

Nearly all of the city’s elected officials are consuming less this year. Comparing the first half of this year to the first half of 2007, Sanders has shown the most dramatic cuts, trimming his water consumption by 43 percent.

“He’s trying to lead by example, showing San Diegans that it can be done,” said Bill Harris, a Sanders spokesman. “He wants to hold himself up as somebody who can show that we’re in a drought, we have concerns about our water supply and we all need to participate in water conservation.”

Across the region, the focus on water conservation is increasing. The governor has declared a drought. Water supplies are pinched. The Colorado River, a major water source, is enduring an almost decade-long drought. The Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, which helps deliver Sierra Nevada snowmelt to Southern California, faces court-ordered restrictions limiting water exports, a measure taken to protect the delta smelt, a tiny endangered fish.

Public officials have been leading the call for conservation. Peters has urged residents to use less, Sanders has routinely highlighted conservation as a priority, and the San Diego County Water Authority is spending an unprecedented $1.8 million to urge area residents to save water through the summer.

While calls for conservation have intensified, they do not appear to have had much impact. San Diego city residents have trimmed their consumption 1.3 percent this year compared to last year, according to the water authority.

Most council members outpaced the citywide effort. Comparing the first half of this year to the first half of last year, Young’s use dropped 38 percent; Hueso’s dropped 32 percent. Maienschein reported a 22 percent cut and Faulconer cut 20 percent. Frye’s was down 18 percent. Councilman Jim Madaffer, the second-highest water consumer (he used 322,000 gallons last year), reported a 6 percent drop.

Only Aguirre has increased his consumption (it’s up 46 percent) — though his use is the lowest of any elected official. Peters uses nearly 10 times as much as Aguirre.

Aguirre could not account for the increase and jokingly said he’d “unleashed a massive water investigation” at his house.

“That’s literally impossible,” he said. “There’s nothing different about our house, we haven’t planted anything, I still take short showers, so I have no idea.”

Aguirre said he has now learned to read his water meter and promised to work to educate residents about how to read their own meters to track consumption more closely.

Water usage can vary from month to month, depending on a number of factors such as whether residents are home, how wet and hot the weather is. To dilute the effects of those seasonal variables, voiceofsandiego.org compared the officials’ water consumption from January to June 2007 with the same timeframe in 2008. (Their water bills are public records because they set water rates.)

Bruce Reznik, executive director of San Diego Coastkeeper, lauded the council members’ reductions, but said their actions need to translate into policies that have a region-wide impact on water consumption habits.

“It’s important that our leaders lead and set a good example,” he said. “It’s more important that they adopt smart policies.”

(Correction: The original chart that accompanied this story incorrectly reported Councilman Tony Young’s water usage. The chart has been changed to accurately reflect the statistics. We regret the error.)

Please contact Rob Davis directly at rob.davis@voiceofsandiego.org with your thoughts, ideas, personal stories or tips. Or set the tone of the debate with a letter to the editor.

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