by Matt Stone – General Manager, SCV Water
Always Advocating Alan Ferdman raises some provocative questions in his recent musings on water use efficiency, total water use, and the number of new water service connections added to our community’s water system. First, here’s the answer to the question Mr. Ferdman posed. The total number of new water service connections added between 2013 and 2017 was 3,173. That’s an increase from 68,085 to 71,258 connections or about 4.7 percent. Even with that growth, our community used less water in 2017 than we did in 2013. Of course, we had different weather in each of those years, and in between those years we experienced a statewide 30 percent conservation order from the Governor.
Mr. Ferdman concluded, “It therefore appears, SCV Water wants to keep adding users and at the same time reduce overall water demand in our valley, by having existing customers use less and less.”
Well, that pretty narrowly frames a much bigger set of issues. Water efficiency improvement has been a focus in California for at least three decades. More efficient devices like toilets and appliances, new landscaping and irrigation standards, and our ongoing efforts to help customers save water with efficiency tools they can use all increase the inherent efficiency of water use. The results have been a reduction in average “per capita” water use over time. As an example, the toilets that Alan or I might have used in our homes in 1975 were most likely using 7 gallons for each flush, where a new toilet today might use as little as .8 gallons.
Communities being built today have to meet more stringent efficiency standards than that 1975 (or 1995, or 2005) home, not only through indoor fixtures and appliances, but also in landscape materials and design of irrigation systems. Back in 2007, the State of California set goals for a 20 percent reduction in per-capita water use by the year 2020. This year, the State passed additional efficiency goals that will take effect beyond 2020. The details of those new targets will be developed at the State level in the next year or two.
As a society, we have changed our natural resource use and efficiency habits in many areas over the years. The average fuel economy for cars in 1975 was 13 mpg. It’s now 33 mpg – spurred by both the oil crisis and revised federal standards related to air quality. Does that mean car owners used less fuel per mile to allow more cars on the road? No. It does mean their cumulative impact on air quality and use of resources is less than it otherwise would have been. In the macro sense, improving our efficiency with any resource improves our inherent sustainability. But what about the narrow sense in which it was rhetorically framed in Ferdman’s article? Are we asking one set of customers to use less and less for the benefit of new service connections? I don’t think so. Those new customers are faced with the same or greater efficiency standards. I’m not sure it would be wise to have the water agency draw a magic line (sometime between 1975 and today?) and choose who stays or who goes. Our job is to keep working to assure a sustainable, affordable and reliable water supply for all the families and businesses that call the Santa Clarita Valley home. Efficiency is part of the solution to sustainability, not the cause of growth. And isn’t improving efficient use of natural resources a perfectly logical and responsible course of action for the long run?
While we are talking about magic and card tricks, let’s look at all the cards in the deck here. Over the years in this valley, we have acquired additional water rights, invested in groundwater storage banks, pursued increased water efficiency, fought to clean up our groundwater, and yes, pursued further development of recycled water. We’ve designed the first few phases of an expansion of recycled water systems, updated our recycled water master plan, and further studied the idea of recharging water in the easterly side of our service area. Even now, we are working through a complex set of environmental and permitting steps to get the necessary approval to use more recycled water. Litigation against the Sanitation District by opponents to their chloride reduction strategy has slowed down progress. But we continue to work through these issues. We owe it to our customers – of today and tomorrow – to work hard to maintain reliable water supplies.