The Million-Gallon Club
There are some people, apparently, who aren’t getting the message. They are so deeply embedded in their own special world that drought is like a distant place they will never need to visit.
The Center for Investigative Reporting, a nonprofit news organization, shows us this week that there are 365 property owners in California who have consumed 1 million gallons of water – in some cases much more – so far this year.
The worst offender is someone in wealthy Bel Air, a Los Angeles suburb, who has consumed nearly 12 million gallons, enough to serve 90 average homes. The water bill for the Bel Air home likely amounts to $90,000 per year, the center estimates.
“Despite the drought,” the center reports, “well-heeled residential customers in affluent neighborhoods are being allowed to use as much water as they want to buy. … The agencies have shown little enthusiasm for restricting use by high-end customers who are consuming huge amounts of water.”
These heavy users were uncovered through an extensive request for utility billing records under the state’s Public Records Act. Unfortunately, none of their identities, or even their exact addresses, are available. That’s because the act also contains a unique exemption that bans disclosure of utility customers’ names and addresses.
In 1997, the state legislature weakened the Public Records Act in this way at the urging of the city of Palo Alto, which sought to protect the privacy of Silicon Valley executives.
The Long Wait for Rain
Fall is finally here (as of September 23). We’ve even turned over a new “water year” (as of October 1). Yet there isn’t likely to be any sign of rain in California for weeks to come. And that’s just the way it is.
California can remain hot and dry right into early November, and it looks like that’s how it will go down this year. There isn’t likely to be any significant precipitation to signal a change of seasons for weeks to come.
Long-range forecasts released Thursday by the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center indicate rainfall in Northern California is likely to remain below normal for at least the next 10 days. Temperatures are likely to be above normal for the whole month.
“Right now we’re in a transition period, so it’s really tough to say if it’s a trend,” Nathan Owen, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Sacramento, told Capital Press. “We’re kind of on a roller-coaster.”
Looking further out, temperatures are predicted to remain above normal through December, and precipitation will be depressed across Northern California.
Commercial forecaster Accuweather concurs, noting that temperatures will even touch the 90s again around the middle of October in some interior locations.
“We’re worried October could be hot, so we don’t want people to turn their sprinklers up,” Felicia Marcus, chair of the State Water Resources Control Board, said Thursday, as she encouraged Californians to continue conserving water.
Leakage Bill Approved in Legislature
A bill that will require water agencies to annually report their system leakage to the state has been approved in the legislature and now awaits Governor Jerry Brown’s signature.
Some utilities lose significant amounts of precious water to leakage due to aging and broken pipes and valves in their plumbing systems. No one knows for sure how much, but it is known to be at least 10 percent in some systems.
Surprisingly, water agencies fought this bill (SB 555). Some said they would support a version that required reporting only every five years. They said annual reporting is too burdensome.
The total water lost to leaks has been estimated, roughly, at 350,000 acre-feet per year. That’s enough to serve 700,000 homes, and it is equal to what some of the proposed new reservoirs would generate.
The law also requires water-loss reporting to be validated by an outside export before reporting to the state.
“I’ve personally reviewed more than 50 water loss audit reports submitted previously to the California Urban Water Conservation Council,” writes Ed Osann, a water conservation expert at the Natural Resources Defense Council, “and I can say unequivocally that validation is necessary. Even water suppliers with several years of experience preparing water audit reports are … significantly overstating the reliability of their reported data.”
Top image: In this Friday, June 5, 2015, photo, Tony Corcoran records sprinklers watering the lawn in front of a house in Beverly Hills, Calif. According to public records, the city’s 90210 ZIP code had 32 customers using 2.8 million gallons or more per year. (Jae C. Hong, Associated Press)