Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2009 | Scott Peters has left the San Diego City Council, taking with him the dubious honor of being the council’s highest water user.

The turnover on council now puts Councilman Carl DeMaio as the heaviest water consumer among the city’s elected officials, according to Water Department records, though DeMaio’s annual use is nowhere near the 1 million gallons that Peters consumed at his La Jolla home in 2007.

DeMaio used 160,072 gallons at his Rancho Bernardo home in 2008. The average household uses 125,664 gallons — 21 percent less than DeMaio. His use increased 10 percent comparing the second half of 2008 with the same time a year earlier — a period when the call for water conservation had just begun.

City officials’ water use otherwise declined in 2008 as the region faced repeated calls for conservation. Mayor Jerry Sanders used 25 percent less than he did in 2007. Council President Ben Hueso was on pace to use 26 percent less. Councilman Kevin Faulconer was on track to use 17 percent less. (Their consumption for all of December was not yet available; the city provided water use through mid-December.)

With the coming year promising to bring the tightest supplies San Diego has seen since the early 1990s, residents could learn a lesson from their elected officials. The region has repeatedly been urged to cut consumption 10 percent. City residents didn’t in 2008, using just 5.5 percent less through November.

This year will be one of the most challenging for San Diego’s water supply. The Colorado River, suffering from years of drought, will provide less than it has historically. So will the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, as a result of new regulations to protect endangered fish. City officials expect that San Diego’s water suppliers may cut deliveries by 20 percent, a step that would require residents to save water or face severe financial penalties.

DeMaio’s consumption was abnormally low between December 2007 and February 2008, records show. He used almost 10,000 gallons combined during those three months. His use spiked in May and June, when he used 57,000 gallons of water.

Erica Mendelson, a spokeswoman for DeMaio, said the councilman’s consumption dropped because his irrigation system broke and wasn’t used. It then increased because he was trying to make his lawn green again, she said.

DeMaio promises to use less in the future, Mendelson said.

The public disclosure of his water use “brings it to someone’s attention,” she said. “When you look at it this way, he’s always looking for ways to curb his water use and be more diligent.”

Water usage can vary from month to month, depending on a number of factors such as whether residents are home and how wet and hot the weather is. But other city officials demonstrated more savings. Sanders, who has led the city’s call for water conservation, acted on it at home.

While the mayor consumed more than the average San Diego household in 2008, his consumption is down 44 percent from 2006, when water conservation was less pressing. The mayor’s conservation continued outpacing city residents’ in 2008.

The mayor has admitted that he’s not flushing the toilet as often at home and that he stopped shaving in the shower to conserve. Bill Harris, a mayoral spokesman, said Sanders enjoys the challenge that conservation poses.

“Almost two years ago, he realized that we needed to start raising consciousness,” Harris said. “He really knows that in order to get people ready he needed to lead by example. He took that on as part of his responsibility of office.”

Sanders has frequently talked about water during public addresses, and again offered a warning to city residents in his State of the City address on Wednesday.

“While thousands of San Diegans have taken the message of conservation to heart, many ignored it, hoping to get a free ride on the conservation of their neighbors,” Sanders said, according to his prepared remarks. “Time is running out. Each of us must accept responsibility for our own water use — because the cost of doing anything less will soon be very real.”

City officials’ water consumption totals are public records because they set water rates. Those officials have been some of the region’s most prominent voices trumpeting the need for conservation. Peters, the former council president, notably called for city residents to save water at the same time he used more than 1 million gallons annually at home. He later cut his use by nearly one-third.

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Dagny Salas was web editor at Voice of San Diego from 2010 to 2013. She was an investigative fellow at VOSD from 2009 to 2010.

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