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OC no match for much of state, especially the Bay Area, in conserving water

Hey folks! It’s time once again for our new drought-inspired game, “Name O.C.’s Biggest Water Users!”

This monthly extravaganza is brought to you by the State Water Resource Control Board and the governor who implores us to slice our consumption by 15%. We stink at that, by the way. No region in California has managed to hit that target yet. But some individual agencies have done that and better, right here in the O.C.! So let’s get right to it.

June’s biggest savers were Mesa Water District, Seal Beach, La Habra, La Palma, Newport Beach, Huntington Beach and Brea.

June’s biggest water hogs were Orange, San Clemente, San Juan Capistrano, Anaheim and the Trabuco Canyon Water District (though the latter has quarrels with the state’s numbers).

Overall, O.C. agencies used less water in June than they did in the same month two years ago. Consumption was down (a not completely awful but certainly not stellar) 3.7% on average. That’s going in the right direction at least: In May, we saved just 2.4% over the same month two years earlier.

We may be shamed by the statewide results.

Overall, residential use in California was down to about where it was in 2019, and folks used 7.6% less water this June than in June 2020. The southern part of the state conserved an average 5.9% — more than us in O.C. — and the Bay Area left us in the dust, cutting water use by 12.6%.

This monthly numbers game is one part public shaming and one part inspired competition. We’re being a bit flip about it, but Gov. Gavin Newsom is as serious as a heart attack. On Thursday, he shook California by the proverbial collar and said that warmer and drier weather may shrink our water supply by up to 10% by the year 2040. You could almost feel his hot breath in your face.

To counter that loss, Newsom laid out plans to capture, recycle, reuse, de-salt and conserve more water.

Some in O.C. are lucky enough to perch atop bounteous groundwater supplies and won’t feel a pinch any time soon. Others, particularly you folks way down south, must import almost every drop and may get a quicker wallop. The recent weather isn’t helping.

State Water Resources Control Board

“I am concerned that given how hot it has been in July and so far in August, that we might be challenged to show reductions in demand,” said Fernando Paludi, general manager of the Trabuco Canyon Water District. “But as I’ve pointed out before, it also has a lot to do with the month/year you are comparing to in terms of temperature and precipitation. TCWD is roughly 95% single-family residential, and outdoor watering is a large part of the residential demand.”

Savers and spenders

Many agencies have responded to the water emergency by restricting outdoor watering to just a couple days a week, and then only in the evenings and early morning.

Leaks must be quickly repaired. Washing sidewalks and driveways is verboten. Restaurants are only serving water to folks upon request, decorative fountains are dry and hotels tell guests they can skip fresh towels and linens every day to save water.

Sometimes, though, that’s just not enough.

Anaheim — not surprisingly — continued to be among the cities that used more water, with use up 7.6% over June 2020.

Two words: Disney Resort, the single largest water user in the county.

Dancer Jenna Johnson (first row) and Joe "Grocery Store Joe" Amabile (second row) take a plunge on Splash Mountain at Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif. while filming a segment for ABC's "Dancing with the Starts" Disney Night airing Oct. 22, 2018 on ABC. (Photo by Richard Harbaugh, Disneyland Resort)
Dancers take a plunge on Splash Mountain at Disneyland while filming a segment for ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars.” (Photo by Richard Harbaugh, Disneyland Resort)

“Anaheim continues to see resumption of use, rather than new use, in these numbers,” city spokesman Mike Lyster said. “For reference, June 2020 was three months into a full shutdown of Disneyland, the Anaheim Convention Center, Angel Stadium of Anaheim, Honda Center, most hotels and some other businesses.”

Topping the list of cities that wound up using more compared to two years earlier was Orange, which, to be fair, was among the county’s biggest water savers in May.

The tippy top of the “We rock!” water savers list may always feature the Mesa Water District (use down 33.4%), and my esteemed colleague Brooke Staggs did an excellent job explaining why in this story.

Essentially, Mesa Water sits atop not one but two layers of underground aquifers, and it has invested in drilling down to the deepest one (the Orange County Water District manages the one closer to the top, which Mesa also taps). Groundwater costs about half as much as imported water.

“Because of long-term investments in water supply and infrastructure, Mesa Water has several years supply of 100% local groundwater in storage – enough water supply to meet our service area’s water demand,” but has moved to greater conservation in solidarity.

“Mesa Water’s customers have voluntarily made water use efficiency a way of life — which has prepared us for dry conditions — with ‘WaterSmart’ plants, irrigation technologies and habits that not only save money but also create vibrant yards, reduce energy use, and protect natural resources,” said spokeswoman Celeste Carrillo by email.

The district’s rate structure also provides a very strong price signal to conserve, she said.

State Water Resources Control Board

Seal Beach did a jolly good job conserving in June as well, nearly hitting the governor’s goal at 14.9%, according to city data (that had trouble making it to Sacramento, but was provided to us).

“During the last drought, our residents embraced water reduction policies and habits that helped Seal Beach reach its conservation goals,”  City Manager Jill Ingram said by email.

“With the prior drought’s end, restrictions no longer mandated, and the COVID-19 pandemic forcing residents inside, water usage undoubtedly was expected to trend upwards. However, with continued education and proactive outreach efforts, the city’s water usage levels have shown a new, downward trend once again, and our residents are to be commended for their ongoing conservation efforts that are having a significant positive impact.”

Way to go, folks.

Disagreements

Local agencies often quarrel with the state’s numbers, though.

Paludi said Trabuco has saved 3.3% in June on a per capita basis, though the state’s figures say overall it has used 3.8% more. We asked officials to suss out the discrepancy, but it wasn’t clear by deadline.

“I can’t say that TCWD is doing as well as Mesa or the other top performers, but we are doing a little better than the data in your email indicates,” Paludi said by email.

Irvine Ranch is also adamant that the state’s data — which says it used 2.4% more water in June — is missing the big picture.

Irvine Ranch Water District's purple pipes deliver recycled water.
Irvine Ranch Water District’s purple pipes deliver recycled water.

“IRWD’s production has increased since 2020 due to growth in the service area. Per capita use has decreased,” it explained in its reporting. “IRWD’s residential usage for June 2022 was 68 gallons per capita per day, which represents a 12% decrease compared to June 2020. Monthly potable (drinkable) production for June 2022 was 5473 AF (acre feet), which represents a 2% percent increase compared to June 2020.”

But how much more is possible? “Potable residential and irrigation customers are responding to our drought efforts, so further potable production reductions would need to come from the business sector, which would result in negative economic impact to the community,” it continued.

State officials were singing the praises of gray water for outdoor watering before the governor’s announcement  — essentially catching the stuff that drains from your showers and washing machines and dishwashers before it hits the sewer and using it for your landscaping and plants. They don’t seem to mind. Expect to hear a lot more about that going forward.

So that’s it for now folks. Save the gray water for the garden, take your car to the car wash and we’ll play this game again in September!

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