Monday, March 23, 2009 | As a community leader and an experienced project manager, I have followed San Diego’s ongoing struggles with water usage vs. availability with great interest. Having now read the details of the Water Department’s proposed water rationing scheme in the Union-Tribune and, I continue to have serious concerns.

Residential water quotas will be adjusted based on interior vs. exterior usage, which is determined from sewer usage statistics. Those statistics, in turn, come from simply looking at winter water usage, on the assumption that residential users irrigate less in the winter. Unfortunately, that is a dangerously flawed assumption, and will once again penalize those good citizens who have heeded calls for conservation while rewarding “water hogs.” The users who most need targeted attention are those who do NOT adjust their sprinkler timers in the winter, and use the same amount of water in the winter as the summer. They will continue to get higher allocations, much to the chagrin of the very customers that should be rewarded in this time of need.

If the city wants to provide an exterior “bucket” of water, it must be based on lot size minus dwelling size, for which numbers are very easily available electronically from the County Assessor’s office. An interior water quota should be based on either the number of residents, for which numbers are available from the IRS or even voluntary customer reporting on a website or “scantron” forms, or on number of bedrooms, for which numbers can again come from the County Assessor’s office.

This insistence on basing new quotas on past usage will discourage those who have been previously voluntarily conserving, and will weaken your position when you need to call for further reductions in the future. NOW is the time to implement a comprehensive allocation plan, based on how much water we have and how many people we need to serve, NOT on how much a particular address has used in the past.

Furthermore, I know I am not alone in my opinion that it is inappropriate to call for further interior water use reductions at this point. The Water Department will be the first to admit that previous campaigns to reduce interior water use have been very successful, to the point where there is little benefit left to be gained in this area. I know that every fixture and appliance in my house is already low-flow and water-efficient, and we take great pains to use as little water as possible. The only way for my family to reduce interior water usage is to stop bathing.

Similarly, if the city of San Diego is indeed running short of water supplies for our population, then perhaps we should stop increasing our population. It is hard to reconcile the statement that there is not enough water for existing residences with council actions to approve the construction of new residences that will require additional water supplies. Perhaps a moratorium on new construction until new water supplies are identified and secured would be appropriate.

But a water quota system based on prior usage, even one with a minimum threshold, is not the right approach.

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