24 March 2009

San Diego Update

Mayor Sanders has announced San Diego's updated drought program [PDF].

The new plan is better than the old plan [PDF] (which I criticize here and here) because it exempts water misers (less than 6 units of water/month/METER) and penalizes "heavy" users.

Before I get into the problems with the new plan, let's take a moment to note the problems that plagued the old plan. First, the city's water department tried to limit the debate on options (see slide 14 of their presentation [PDF]) by restricting questions at the "public discussion" forums to the questions that they wanted to answer. (DW tells me that the staffers took questions on index cards and then chose which ones to answer.)

Second, listen to DW:
They've got several problems according to the public workshop I attended.

One is their customer database is very limited, and they don't even know how many occupants are in each customer home. They haven't done any specific surveys to link occupancy to customer meters.

Two is that they've always left it up to commercial and multfamily developers the decision of installing master meters or individual unit meters when they built new office buildings and apartment/condos. In most cases the developer chose the cheaper master meter option.

So they have a whole bunch of master metered customers who don't even know how much water they're using, and currently they plan to just leave it up to landlords to figure out how to distribute any reduced water allocations to their tenants, which may cause discrimination problems.

Apparently there is a new system on the market to retrofit multifamily and commercial buildings by installing meters on individual units pipes, but the department is waiting for the state health dept to approve the new technology before asking landlords to retrofit their buildings.

Everything they propose seems pretty voluntary when it comes to master metered commercial or multifamily landlords.
Third, I got an email from a staffer at the Mayor's office. He basically complained that critics (like DW and me) are being too hard on people working diligently to make things work. My response to that was that SD has had plenty of time to figure out an equitable and efficient water allocation plan. (60+ years, in fact, of living at the end of the pipe.)

So we are seeing a "top down," not-invented-here mentality from water managers (and politicians) trying to control the debate.

So how does the "new" plan look? Here are the main points:
  1. Water misers are exempt, and water wasters "will" be penalized.
  2. Outdoor irrigation will have to be cut by 45%; indoor by 5%.
  3. Allocations are more flexible, to allow people to save more on average.
Now the current plan falls short in several ways:
  • Allocations are still "per meter" and not per capita.
  • They are still based on prior use.
  • The City is going to measure indoor/outdoor use by seasonal fluctuations, which does not penalize people who water year-round. (It's easier for the water managers to calculate, however.)
  • There is no clear price signal except a vague threat that the City -- as a whole -- will pay sharply-higher rates for exceeding its allocation from SDCWA/MWDSC. Such a structure (and vagueness) makes it easy for individual customers to use more with the hope that others will reduce their use.
  • There is no clear method of allocating to businesses. (I suggest the right way here.)
Mayor Sanders and his staff say that any shortage allocation plan must be fair, easily understood, ready to implement by July 1, and likely to achieve "required" reductions.

Their current plan is not fair (per meter and historic use vs per capita), not easy to understand (everyone gets a different allocation), and unlikely to achieve "required" reductions (telling people to use less will not work).

The one virtue of the "plan" is that it WILL be implemented by July 1. That will count as success to some people.

Bottom Line: San Diego's politicians need to serve citizens -- not water managers. For this to happen, water policies have to be based on people -- not meters, lawns or historic waste.

1 comment:

MeterReader said...

Ah gee, ... I rather like the idea of coin operated meters ... anyone want to bet how quick they would work ?