Environment Report: 'The Water Department Has Lost the Public’s Trust' - Voice of San Diego

Science/Environment UNVEILING THE UNSEEN

Environment Report: 'The Water Department Has Lost the Public’s Trust'

There’s a lot of misinformation about a state goal for indoor water use, the San Diego County Water Authority’s leader is undergoing a performance review following harassment allegations and more in our biweekly roundup of environmental news.

Some smart meters are known to be unreliable. / Image courtesy of NBC 7

Three audits of the city of San Diego’s water department are expected to be released in coming days.

Already, though, some members of the City Council are pushing for changes at the department, including the possible removal of top officials who struggled to send out accurate water bills and withheld information from the public and the press.

Councilman David Alvarez said he no longer has confidence in the department’s leadership, following an investigation by Voice of San Diego and NBC 7 Responds that showed the head of the department tried to dodge oversight.

“The water department has lost the public’s trust,” Alvarez said in a statement. “If its leaders cannot embrace transparency, offer a detailed explanation of the billing problems and implement an effective solution, then they should step aside and the city should actively recruit new leadership for that department.”

Councilman Chris Cate proposed the department stop estimating some water bills and instead charge all customers based on what they actually use. He also wants the department to improve its customer service. Right now, customers complain that not only are they getting inaccurate bills but that when they call to complain, the water department brushes off their concerns.

City staff are doing two audits, a consulting firm is doing another; all of them should be released to the public in a matter of days. Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s administration recently ordered another review, partially in response to problems identified by VOSD and NBC.

Fact Check: Waldron on Water

A lot of people are unhappy with a new state law that sets a daily goal for indoor water use of 55 gallons per person, starting in 2022.

There’s been a lot of misinformation about the goal. For instance, a popular blog claimed that residents could be fined $1,000 if they took a bath and washed clothes on the same day. That is not true. The 55 gallon goal is not a hard cap on personal water use. It’s the average amount of water that can be used inside homes across a water agency’s service territory, meaning some customers can use more, but some will use less. Penalties, if any, apply to water districts that can’t rein in use, not to individual customers.

Assemblywoman Marie Waldron has another, even stronger take: “So can you live on 55 gallons of water a day? No one can,” she writes in a Times of San Diego op-ed.

Once again: It’s not a law limiting use to 55 gallons a day.

What’s more, Waldron’s claim that no one can live on 55 gallons a day simply isn’t true. For perspective, the recommended daily intake of water for an adult male is about a gallon of water per day.

But, of course, we need to do more than just drink water: We also shower, wash dishes, do laundry. Even then, we can do it with less than 55 gallons of water, and many of us already are. Right now, average water use in the city of San Diego is 60 gallons per day, including water used in and outside of the house, meaning it’s likely that city customers are already living on 50 gallons or so a day. Since the new law focuses on indoor use, the city is already in good shape.

Likewise, the Irvine Ranch Water District in Orange County has had a water budget of 50 gallons per person per day, with more water use allowed for people with yards and more water available for people who want to pay higher rates. There have yet to be reports of mass dehydration in Irvine and the district has some of the lowest rates in Orange County.

There are legitimate questions about attempts to ration water and also how to limit outdoor water use, especially for farmers, but it seems possible to limit indoor use without killing everyone.

Water Authority Leader Review This Week

The San Diego County Water Authority is set to review the performance of its long-time general manager on Thursday. Maureen Stapleton, who has led the agency for more than two decades, is facing allegations that she harassed a member of the agency’s board of directors.

It’s unclear how the agency’s board of directors will factor the allegations into the review, which was delayed when the allegations surfaced in May. Earlier that month, Stapleton accused a male board member of having an affair with a woman who works for the Metropolitan Water District. There’s no evidence such an affair happened. The board member then asked for an investigation of Stapleton’s behavior. The incident suggested that a long-standing rivalry between two water agencies has devolved into personal attacks.

It’s also unclear if the Water Authority will make public a report on the incident.

The review is scheduled to occur behind closed doors.

  • Last week, the Water Authority won a lawsuit filed by Cory Briggs accusing the agency of holding other closed-door meetings in violation of state open meetings laws.

From the Actual Environment

The recent heat wave hurt San Diego’s avocado crop.

Scott Borden, co-owner of Borden Ranches in the Pauma Valley, said he’s already lost about 10 percent of his next crop due to extreme heat.

Heat-scorched avocado trees in the Pauma Valley / Image courtesy of Scott Borden

Farmers near Valley Center and Escondido have had similar experiences, according to The Packer, a trade industry publication, and 10News.

The avocado industry in San Diego is already shrinking because of other pressures, including high water prices, increasingly salty water, labor shortages and cheap avocados flooding in from Mexico.

“I can’t imagine the avocado industry will thrive, and it’s definitely not going to be like it used to be,” Borden said.

Show Comments
Loading

We’re striving for the best possible discussion and may delete comments using our editorial judgment. All comments containing links will be reviewed by VOSD staff before they are published.
Read our full comment policy.
For longer comments, consider submitting an op-ed to Voice of San Diego.
Read the guidelines here.

We have recently updated our commenting system. If you are unable to submit a comment, please clear the cache and cookies in your browser, or use a private browsing window. Click here for detailed instructions.