Thursday, Jan. 24, 2008 | When attention focused last September on his heavy water consumption, City Council President Scott Peters promised he'd use less at home.
But in the four months since, water use at Peters' La Jolla home increased 6 percent compared to the same timeframe in 2006. Compared to the four months before he made the pledge, it was up 8 percent.
Since last summer, public officials across Southern California have pleaded with the region's populace to conserve water. This year, the region potentially faces one of its tightest water supplies in recent history. The Colorado River, a major water source, is enduring an almost decade-long drought. The Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, which delivers Sierra Nevada snowmelt to Southern California, faces court-ordered restrictions limiting water exports, a measure taken to protect an endangered fish.
Those calls for conservation — some made by Peters himself — have met with mixed success among the region's residents and among San Diego's elected officials. As water managers plot ways to convey the conservation message to county residents this year, water usage statistics for city officials suggest they have lessons to learn, too.
Peters, his wife and two children used as much water in 2007 as the households of Mayor Jerry Sanders, City Councilmen Kevin Faulconer, Brian Maienschein, Jim Madaffer, Ben Hueso and City Attorney Mike Aguirre combined.
The mayor and several other council members reduced their water use after the San Diego County Water Authority launched a campaign calling for increased conservation in July.
Not all did. Maienschein increased his water use 55 percent between July and the year's end.
Others made more progress. Comparing the last six months of 2007 with the same time in 2006, Sanders cut his consumption by 39 percent. Councilman Tony Young reported a 51 percent savings (through the end of November). Faulconer reduced water use by 12 percent.
Water usage can vary from month-to-month, depending on a number of factors such as whether residents are home, how hot the weather is and how much rainfall occurs. To dilute the effects of those seasonal variables, voiceofsandiego.org compared the officials’ water consumption from July to December 2007 with the same timeframe in 2006.
The mayor and many council members still use more water than the typical city household, which consumes 125,000 gallons annually. Madaffer used 322,000 gallons in 2007; Sanders used 180,000 gallons. Faulconer and Maienschein both used 163,000 gallons, Hueso used 160,000.
None used more than Peters. While he opined in August in the La Jolla Light about the benefits of water conservation, he has not heeded his own advice. Nor has he fulfilled the pledge he made in September, when voiceofsandiego.org highlighted his heavy water consumption.
His spokeswoman, Pam Hardy, said in September that Peters would try to reduce his water usage, though she would not commit to a specific percentage.
"The threat of mandatory rationing was a wakeup call for all of us," she said then. "We haven’t had to be as vigilant the last couple of years. It's time to be serious. Scott is trying to sound the alarm in the community as well as at home."
But in the following four months, Peters' water use increased, and his family finished the year having consumed more than 1 million gallons of water — eight times more than the typical single-family household and more than he's used since at least 2003. The majority of those million gallons were used at his home, which sits on a 34,848-square-foot lot near Mount Soledad.
It was enough water to run a typical shower for more than seven-and-a-half months — nonstop.
About 200,000 gallons were used to irrigate a wooded 20,298-square foot parcel (with landscaping and a tennis court) that sits adjacent to his home.
Hardy said Peters had a professional water audit conducted at his home in the fall to look for ways to reduce his water use. Some showerheads were replaced with low-flow varieties and a water leak was repaired, Hardy said. Because Peters has drought-resistant landscaping, he is installing new irrigation meters and aims to water his plants less, she said. Hardy was unsure how many showerheads were replaced or how much less irrigation would be needed. Hardy said Peters was unavailable to speak directly about his water consumption.
"With such a large property, their water use is always going to be higher," Hardy said. "Mr. Peters hopes to see significant water savings in the next few months."
Bruce Reznik, executive director of San Diego Coastkeeper, an environmental group that has advocated for water conservation and supported plans to recycle the city's sewage into drinking water, said city officials needed to set an example for others.
"Would I like to see every councilmember having dramatically reduced? Of course. That's what leadership is," Reznik said. "Even if some folks haven’t lived up to that standard doesn't mean the 1.3 million San Diegans shouldn't."
voiceofsandiego.org obtained the records through a California Public Records Act request; the documents are public because the officials set city water rates and other policies. Specific water use totals could not be computed for Councilwoman Toni Atkins, who lives in a multi-unit complex with a shared water meter.
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