Statement: “Through aggressive efforts by businesses and residents alike, we’re using far less water than we did 20 years ago, with a population that’s one-fifth larger,” Mayor Jerry Sanders said in his State of the City address Jan. 12.
Analysis: In his annual address, Sanders touted the drop as one of the city’s best accomplishments, highlighting new infrastructure and a “conservation culture” among residents.
You can measure water use simply by looking at the city’s total. Or you could tally residents’ per-capita usage. Either way, Sanders’ statement stands up to the test.
While the city’s population grew by 23 percent over the last two decades, how much drinkable water it consumed annually fell by 18 percent. People and businesses used about 67,000 gallons per resident in 1990 compared to 45,000 gallons per resident last year.
The reason why lies in two supply pinches. One struck San Diego from 1987 to 1992 and threatened the city with a 50 percent water cut. A major conservation push launched then made water-saving toilets and showerheads common throughout the region. Hundreds of thousands of efficient fixtures were distributed.
Consumption began growing after the drought ended, though, and steadily climbed through 2007 when endangered species protections on the Sacramento Delta, a major source, again pressured the city’s supplies. Water conservation efforts were launched then, culminating with mandatory water use restrictions implemented in 2009 that limit lawn watering to three days a week.
The challenge, water managers say, will be to keep consumption low and drive it even lower into the future. That requires tougher behavioral changes — like ripping out the front lawn — not just installing an efficient toilet.
Since Sanders accurately summarized how water use has changed over time, we’ve called his statement True.
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