Monday, July 27, 2009 | While the threat of the most serious water restrictions in 20 years loomed earlier this year, most elected officials in San Diego used less water at home.

A few didn’t.

City Councilwoman Marti Emerald’s water consumption during the first half of the year increased 22 percent from the same time a year earlier. Councilman Kevin Faulconer’s use increased a small fraction, as did Councilman Tony Young’s.

But the majority of the city’s elected officials used less than they did during the same period a year earlier. And all of them — including Emerald, Young and Faulconer — consume less than the average San Diego household.

Taken as a group, the city’s elected officials outpaced the 9 percent region-wide cut in water consumption so far this year. The eight city officials who live in single-family homes used 18 percent less water, according to data obtained through a California Public Records Act request.

In an arid region coping with the first mandatory water-use restrictions in two decades, the officials demonstrated how individual actions add up. Council President Ben Hueso removed grass at his house and installed 1,300 square feet of artificial turf. Councilman Carl DeMaio replaced three inefficient toilets and reduced his lawn-watering schedule. Mayor Jerry Sanders stopped shaving in the shower.

Those actions and others helped save a combined 92,000 gallons in the first half of 2009 — enough water to supply an average San Diego household for nine months.

Identifying the largest user among the officials during the first half of the year is difficult. Because the city now bills households every two months, elected officials are on alternating cycles. Some officials’ 2009 water bills are available through mid-June, when irrigation increases. Others stop in mid-May.

City officials’ water use data is public because they set water rates and water-use policies. And those officials are some of the region’s most prominent voices trumpeting the need for conservation.

None has talked more about conservation than Sanders. In 2007, when he started calling for others to conserve, the mayor used 50 percent more than the average San Diegan household.

Today, it’s the opposite. Sanders uses just more than half what the typical household consumes. He’s replaced showerheads at home. He’s changed out some potted plants, and despite his love of gardening, he’s replaced others with rock landscaping, said his spokesman, Darren Pudgil.

“The mayor isn’t going to ask of others what he’s not willing to do himself,” Pudgil said. “He’s leading by example.”

DeMaio, who had been the highest user among city officials in 2008, fulfilled his promise to use less at home. His consumption in the first six months of the year was down 39 percent.

DeMaio had a water audit performed at his home (the city offers them for free) that helped him pinpoint inefficiencies — including a leaky toilet.

“He’s proud of the fact that he saves water,” said DeMaio’s spokeswoman, Erica Mendelson. “It makes it an attainable goal for people. He’s done it and achieved it himself.”

Emerald, whose use increased 22 percent in the first half of the year, said in an e-mail that she sat down with her husband and daughter to talk about conservation after seeing their usage. “Probably the same conversation a lot of families are having right now,” she wrote.

“We have room for improvement,” Emerald wrote. “Take shorter showers, don’t leave the water running while brushing our teeth, prepping food or doing dishes, water the potted plants less often and for shorter durations. Try to keep the water in the pool not all over the patio when we’re swimming and playing fetch with the dog. All these little things can add up.”

Despite the slight uptick, both Faulconer and Young have cut their consumption during the last four years. Young used 36 percent less in the first half of the year compared to the same time in 2007, before the region-wide water conservation effort began.

Faulconer’s use in the first half of the year was 6 percent lower than it was in 2007. Faulconer has a water audit scheduled at his home in September, said his spokesman, Tony Manolatos. In a written statement, Faulconer said water conservation was a priority for his family.

“Although we’ve cut back, we’re continuing to look at ways to decrease our use,” he said.

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.

City Attorney Jan Goldsmith and Councilman Todd Gloria were excluded from this analysis because they live in multi-family complexes without individual water meters.

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.

Dagny Salas

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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