San Juan Water District convened their inaugural meeting of the 2014 Drought Committee at their district headquarters this past June 2nd. The committee is comprised of representatives from neighboring municipal districts, professionals from the pool, golf course and nursery industries, along with community residents served by the San Juan Water District. The focus of the Drought Committee is to develop strategies and tactics to help SJWD increase water conservation and recommendations for implementing potential stage 4 and 5 drought restrictions.
Drought committee to offer conservation measures
The Drought Committee is being organized by SJWD’s Water Resource Analyst Vicki Sacksteder with help from current Board member Bob Walters. I was fortunate enough to be invited after volunteering at one the Board meetings held at Eureka Middle School where the formation of the Drought Committee was announced. The Drought Committee has the great opportunity to provide guidance and opinion to the SJWD Board as they face difficult decisions on how to manage the district’s precious and limited water resources during a period of drought and into the future.
San Juan Water District reaching out to community
Ms. Sacksteder and Mr. Walters provided an excellent overview of the current water situation from the projected snow melt and Folsom Lake water storage to cooperative discussions with neighboring water districts to manage water supplies from Folsom reservoir and available ground water. In attendance at the first meeting were representatives from a real estate, golf course, swimming pool professions along with a couple of district residents, including me. It’s hoped that some of the neighboring park and other municipal agencies will be able to attend future meetings as their schedules allow.
Granite Bay is conserving water
As was stated in the meeting, the entire SJWD retail and wholesale areas have reduced their consumption of potable water in the last twelve months by significant percentages as the specter of a shrinking Folsom Lake, depleted by drought, had caught everyone’s attention. While virtually everyone in Northern California understands we are faced with drought conditions, all the water districts connected to Folsom Lake water and beyond are grappling with how to reduce water consumption even further without mandating punitive restrictions. However, in the event Folsom Lake continues to drop and we are not blessed with precipitation, the SJWD Board would like suggestions on conservation messages, potential watering restrictions and how best to implement both.
Avoiding Stage 4 Water Crisis level
Currently the SJWD retail service district is at the Stage 3 Water Warning level. A Stage 4 Water Crisis: Short Term declaration may come as early as this autumn dependent upon water levels in Folsom Lake which is the primary water source for the SJWD. The central feature of a Stage 4 over a Stage 3 level is the reduction of outdoor irrigation from 25% to 50%. Landscape irrigation, whether it is residential, park, greenbelt or golf course, comprises the bulk of the water consumption during the spring, summer and autumn months. The big question is how does the SJWD assist consumers in reducing their landscape irrigation another 25% without sacrificing valuable trees, ornamentals, pastures, and gardens.
Folsom Lake water spread across suburbs
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that there was significant discussion involving the management of Folsom Lake by the Bureau of Reclamation. Suffice it to say that the San Juan Water District and other water districts continue conversations with the Bureau in an effort to guarantee more reliable water levels in the reservoir during the current drought and in future years. Regardless of the fruit those conversations may bear for water storage in the future, we need to focus and prepare for the worst case scenario of Stage 4 and Stage 5 Water Emergency declarations. San Juan Water District retail operations serve Granite Bay and part of the City of Folsom. The wholesale side supplies water to the communities of Orangevale, Fair Oaks and Citrus Heights.
Triage of water cutbacks
To paraphrase Ms. Sacksteder, “how do we begin the triage process for prioritizing residential and commercial landscape irrigation cutbacks?” That statement is best framed within some of the salient comments made by the Drought Committee members.
- Pools use less water than a similar sized landscape comprised of turf
- Golf Courses can be far more efficient at using water than most residential or commercial turf landscapes
- No one wants our neighborhoods to be filled with homes that look like they are in foreclosure because of water restrictions
- Many homeowners have already met or exceeded any suggested water conservation goals
- Some homeowners and commercial landscape owners are oblivious to their excess outdoor irrigation
- Many homeowners feel as if they have no benchmark to measure their water use by and don’t know if they are conserving enough.
These were excellent observations by the attendees and captured both the frustration and challenge of moving consumers to the next level of water conservation.
– At this point, I wish to alert you that the following comments, suggestions and recommendations are all mine and do not necessary reflect the opinion of anyone attending the 2014 Drought Committee meeting. –
The next level of voluntary water conservation measure should be met with the next level of engagement with the community. As we all approach “drought fatigue” and start to tune out the constant drum beat of “water conservation” messages on TV, the newspaper and our water bills, we need more human interaction. Our goal should be to affect a level of conservation that pushes the consideration of a Stage 4 declaration into the far distant future. In the spirit of true “brain storming”, I offer the following suggestions without consideration for budgets or other feasibility constraints.
Trained volunteer base – A program should be considered that trains community volunteers to spread the message on water conservation. The expertise might be indoor water consumption or outdoor irrigation. They wouldn’t necessarily be experts, but could put residents in contact with SJWD staff who can perform water audits and dispense irrigation tips.
Neighborhood engagement – Trained volunteers could go door to door in their neighborhoods asking if the residents have any questions or irrigation issues that need attention. They can start a dialog within the community and help resolve over watering issues before district personnel have to get involved.
Community presence – Volunteers handing out literature and answering questions should be at as many community events as possible: farmer’s markets, sporting events, little league games, soccer games, etc. A quick pop-up shade structure might also be used at retail locations to allow local residents to stop by and ask questions.
Industry professionals– It could be helpful to have industry professionals from local nursery’s, landscaping, golf courses or pool professionals available to answer questions at some of the community events.
Retail and Commercial Leadership – Develop materials for retail and commercial outlets to distribute discussing how best to irrigate their planting material in the face of a drought.
Community event – Organize a community event at either a park or local golf course to focus on water conservation practices and water treatment demonstrations with lots of district staff and industry professionals to answer questions.
Marketing with impact – think outside the box for unique marketing opportunities that spreads the water conservation message without beating a dead horse into a second death. This might be using social media such as a Facebook page, Instagram or any visual medium where people can display their water conservation tips and success stories.
Competition – Have a competition for commercial projects or residential properties to see who can save the most amount of water with the installation of new sprinklers. Ask if signage can be included on the property about “conserving water for tomorrow”. Perhaps the prize is donated by a local golf course or retail establishment. It might be a tour of homes that have retrofitted their landscaping to low flow rotary heads and drip to showcase “green landscaping with lean watering”.
Water budgets – Offer to help residential or commercial consumers create a water budget for their property to demonstrate its usefulness. Water budgets provide a benchmark that allows consumers to gauge their water use against a theoretical standard for the amount of landscaping and house size they have. This might be accompanied with helping the consumer read their meter every week to measure their usage against the budget.
Moving to a new reality
I believe our communities have enough water, even in drought years, if it is used efficiently. I believe there is “over consumption” of water that just isn’t recognized. I believe we are a community that can help our neighbors use water more efficiently without the threats of punitive restrictions. But spreading this message necessitates going outside our comfort zone. At this point, I would rather go outside my comfort zone, even if it means wearing a Mr. Water Drip costume, than see my street look like Foreclosure Drive because of water restrictions. It’s not about water conservation so much as it is about moving into a reality that we just don’t need to use as much water because we have the most efficient tools and appliances in place.
Drought Committee future
The 2014 Drought Committee had a great start with good leadership and a better vision from the SJWD. There was sense that we can avoid draconian restrictions that might threaten valuable landscaping and local businesses. When you see private citizens and commercial interests pulling together for a common cause the results are usually positive. I’m just wondering who will be the first committee member that gets to wear the Mr. Water Drip costume this summer?