As if to defy traditional market economics, the water consumption in the Granite Bay retail division of the San Juan Water District dropped without the advent price hikes. This water conservation, solely at the behest of the water districts and California officials, illustrates that consumers can change their consumption based on good information and awareness of a shrinking natural resource.
Consumers respond to information
As the San Juan Water District Drought Committee convened its fourth meeting, Board member Bob Walters wondered how effective either monetary fines, as imposed by the SWRCB, or price hikes might be to curb water consumption. Both Board member Pam Tobin and SJWD Water Resources Analyst spoke to how the Granite Bay retail operation had a 30% reduction in water in one month and close to 20% in other months in 2014.
Community trumps price
Classical economic theory forecasts that as the price increases; demand for the commodity decreases. In the Granite Bay region and other areas throughout California, water consumption actually dropped without price increases. This flies in the face of conventional arguments that contend that only increasing prices will curb excess use of water. This argument is not entirely without merit. For water districts in San Francisco and Marin, the pricing structure reflects a 30% – 100% over the first tier of consumption.
|Water District||Marin||San Francisco||San Juan Retail|
|Tier||CCF Units||$/unit||CCF Units||$/unit||CCF Units||$/unit|
|2||21 – 48||$7.48||5+||$6.52||21 – 200||$0.77|
|3||49 – 80||$14.97||201+||$0.54|
But it is important to remember that water districts in general can not set their prices to generate excessive revenues. So even though the initial rates for Marin and San Francisco may be a shocker, those utilities may also be shouldering greater costs for their infrastructure and to acquire water. For San Francisco, they have the costs of maintaining Hetch Hetchy and all the pipe line and pumping stations required to move the water to the city.
Education most effective in reducing water consumption
These Bay Area water rate structures were implemented years before the drought. Some of the water districts with the highest water rates in the Bay Area and Southern California reported the smallest decline in year over year water consumption. So why has the San Juan Water District been so successful at reducing water consumption? Most likely it is a combination of consumer education, public awareness and the visible signs of a shrinking Folsom Lake.
Brown grass in Granite Bay
While some folks may recoil at the sight of dead grass in a front yard, there are many Granite Bay residents who take the drought seriously. Without any mandated watering restrictions they have intentionally let their grass die or go dormant for the summer. From my perspective, SJWD ought to send these people a letter of commendation. They are sacrificing the natural beauty of their yards to conserve a precocious and limited natural resource.
Bay Area cities work to raise drought awareness
A recent Sacramento Bee article reported how City of Pleasanton implemented an aggressive education program coupled with a two day per week landscape watering restriction and was able to achieve close to a 25% reduction in water consumption for the month of June. The City of Pleasanton did threaten to double the rates if their 20% conservation goals were not met. What a City of Pleasanton water consumer can do from the Pleasanton Utility Page is view their consumption history.
Daily consumption amounts
The ability to get timely consumption reports either from the water meter or the water district was agreed upon by all the Drought Committee members in attendance as a great tool for encouraging conservation. There are times when analyzing a two month consumption report, SJWD reads the meters every 60 days, can be too large to determine what conservation measures are really having an impact. A Marin County resident has created software and hardware to allow water districts to report a household’s daily use and compare it to the neighbor’s water use.
State is frustrated
The State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) passed a mandatory $500 fine for excessive water waste such as washing off side walks. SWRCB chair Felicia Marcus was quoted in the Sacramento Bee as saying, “I was disappointed. That’s why we chose to go with what I would call modest statewide regulations to send the message we are in a crisis.” in response to why they passed the fines. Unfortunately for Chairwoman Marcus, she can’t expect all residents to conserve equally when some district have very few conservation measures because their source of water comes from under ground. California doesn’t even monitor ground water pumping. There is no way a water district, not facing a water crisis of any sort, will fine a customer for hosing off their drive way. The consumer might get a friendly letter or knock on the door encouraging him or her to refrain for using an open hose to wash off the sidewalk.
Perpetually dry slopes
Ray Young of Fair Oaks Cemetery District brought in and demonstrated a water absorbing polymer that can be added to soils to increase the water holding capacity and reduce irrigation. Within thirty minutes of adding one tablespoon to clear quart vase full of water, the polymer crystals had expanded in diameter by at least 20 times and the vase looked like it was full of mushy marbles with no water left. Both the Fair Oaks Cemetery and Granite Bay Golf Course use water absorbing polymers in different landscaping situations to increase available water to turf grass in high stress situations. While the managers for both the properties felt they had conserved water, they had no hard numbers to report.
Do we want polymers in the soil?
Because of the cost and special considerations for adding the polymers to the soil to yield the best results, it was generally accepted by the Drought Committee that the polymers would be best utilized by landscaping professionals either on residential landscapes or in a commercial application. There is still the possibility of SJWD working with landscaping professionals in order to develop educational literature to help guide residential consumers in the best management practices of the water absorbing polymers for maximum water conserving potential.
More water conservation measures to follow
The Drought Committee decided to meet again in August to delineate more Stage 4 water conservation measures to be considered by the SJWD Board if such a declaration is made. The committee members representing Granite Bay Golf Club, Fair Oaks Cemetery, Orangevale Park District, San Juan Unified School District, landscaping and pool professionals, the real estate industry as well as district residents will return with specific recommendations at the next meeting.