When it comes to water conservation, it appears as if residents in the Daily Journal coverage area in San Mateo County are on board and doing the right thing.
In light of the worst drought this state has seen in years, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission requested consumers reduce their water use by 10 percent. For the most part, we responded. The town of Hillsborough reported the highest amount of reduction with 16 percent, while the cities of Belmont, Burlingame and San Carlos reported 15 percent or higher. Even the cities that did not quite reach the goal, San Bruno at 9 percent and Redwood City at 6 percent, each have their own measures to reduce overall consumption. San Bruno supplements its water from the SFPUC with well water and Redwood City uses recycled water in portions of Redwood Shores. By comparison, San Francisco residents had conserved about 6.6 percent as of early July. So take a moment to congratulate yourself.
Now, let’s kick it up a notch. When Gov. Jerry Brown declared a statewide drought in February, he urged Californians to reduce consumption by 20 percent. Many of us are almost there and it could take just a bit more effort to meet the governor’s goal. We can do it.
That, however, is just one piece of the puzzle. There is also a matter of our state’s aging infrastructure as evidenced by the massive water leak by the University of California, Los Angeles last week that caused the loss of some 20 million gallons of water. Nearer to home, the Daily Journal reported July 2 that a failed SFPUC pipe has been pouring millions of gallons of fresh water just south of the Dumbarton Bridge into the Bay and will continue to do so until a multi-million-dollar system upgrade is completed by the end of this year. That leak is estimated to account for a loss of 25 gallons of water per minute for the past four to five years. The good news is that the issue will be addressed in the $4.6 billion Bay Tunnel Project. The bad news is that it has wasted between 52.5 million gallons and 65.7 million gallons of water since the SFPUC was made aware of the leak, according to its own estimates. So while we let our lawns go brown and take shorter showers, the impact just might be negligible in comparison to the losses created by our aging infrastructure. The UCLA leak was obvious, the SFPUC Bay leak may not have been noticed. Just think of the water loss by leaking pipes we can’t see underground.
Just how that is to be addressed is a larger issue that must be dealt with at the state level. A state water bond scheduled for the November ballot is being debated in Sacramento this week and based on the deliberation will likely be between $6 billion and $11.1 billion and seek to address groundwater protection, water storage, waste water treatment and Delta sustainability efforts. So far, the debate has been hampered by politics and competing interests and that’s even without the governor’s Delta Tunnel project truly in the mix. The idea, however, is that this bond would set the stage for more on the Delta Tunnel effort, which essentially would divert water to the southern end of the state without having to travel through the Delta. So exactly how much infrastructure relief will be provided by any bond has yet to be seen and will still have to pass muster with state voters in November.
The positive thing that has come out of this drought is that conservation is resonating with regular people, particularly those in San Mateo County, and there is a serious discussion on infrastructure, storage and other ways to ensure our state’s water supply. With a need for a two-thirds vote in the Legislature, compromise is key. So keep those spigots to the right folks, but keep your eye on Sacramento too.