It is almost like we’re all connected somehow.

I had occasion to watch some area-of-origin advocates last week and came away unimpressed.  Area-of-origin is code for Northern California, and it really means ‘DON’T TAKE OUR WATER’.  It is named for the doctrine that the regions where water originates shouldn’t be harmed by projects moving (excess) water away.  I have some sympathy for that; the Owens Valley lakebed shows what can happen to the area of origin in the absence of any protections.  But the advocates I saw last week are arguing against water conservation for themselves on the basis that they have plenty.  It made me want to reach for some harsh adjectives.

Twenty by Twentytwenty is the Governor’s policy on water conservation that is likely to be turned into legislation sometime soon.  So far as I know, the goal is arbitrary, picked primarily for the sound of it.  Reduce urban per capita water use by 20 percent by the year 2020.  But it isn’t a bad goal, neither trivial nor overambitious, so why not go with a catchy phrase.  The big problem is that not all cities in the state use the same amount of water.  Some have been conserving for years; reducing their per capita water use by 20% would mean changing their lifestyle or cutting something they value (they use, roughly, 110ish gallons per household per day).  Others are still shamefully profligate and drinking quality water runs down their gutters (more like 380 gallons per person per day).  The civil servants tasked with 20 x twenty20 wrote a draft report suggesting that the regions who use more because they are wastrels (my phrasing) should conserve more than regions who have been tightening down on water for decades (mostly southern California and the central coast).

The prospect of Twenty by 20XX becoming law has got people like Placer County Water Agency campaigning against it.  My jaw dropped to hear people say, out loud, in public, that they don’t want to conserve if it only goes to help other people, that they think they should always have the privilege to waste their water.  I am embarrassed for them.  However, if they are already willing to sound like narcissistic five-year-olds in public, they must have already rationalized and accepted the arguments that they have plenty, and that should exempt them from having to do anything for people downstream, who are presumably different and not-them.  I wonder where they stood on the question of the Bay Area and Smog Check II.

Back in the turn of the century, people living in the Bay Area had weaker Smog Check requirements than the rest of the state.  The wind blew fresh off the ocean each night; because their air basin was always clean, they didn’t have to do smog checks as frequently or maintain their cars as much as everywhere else in California.  This was nice for them.  Turns out, though, that their pollutants were blowing eastward and getting pinned against the mountains.  You know, like in Placer County.  Ozones from the Bay Area were weakening pine trees, raising the fire danger in the area-of-origin mountain counties.  The legislature stepped in, holding people in the Bay Area to the same Smog Check standards as the rest of the state, even though people in the Bay Area breathe clean air.

Look, Mountain Counties.  People in San Francisco have to take their cars to get smogged twice as often for your sake.  For the same amount of trouble, you could adjust your fucking sprinklers and switch out your toilets.  For the cost of their additional car maintainance, you could buy a low water using washing machine.  You wouldn’t want to go backward, would you?  To all those smoggy days in the foothills?  The law was an improvement, right?  Twenty x XXtwenty will be too, overall. 

Folks, we are in an system, connected by pipes and law and flows of water, air and energy.  We are too far intertwined to pull up the drawbridges around your region, even if you do have the water rights to fill the moat.  Please, come out and play with the rest of the state.



If my fervent plea doesn’t reach them, my second thought was to fund firefighting in inverse proportion to per capita water use.



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6 responses to “It is almost like we’re all connected somehow.

  1. dfb

    That is galling. I definitely do not want to see the baseline set higher for Placer or the wasting regions.

    I like the report you link. It is long but informative.

    Using a logarithmic scale for penalties would be a perfectly reasonable method, to me. ;-)

    Placer, Sacramento, and everyone else should remember that the California Constitution mandates all water uses be beneficial and reasonable. The rule of reasonable use, applies “to all water rights enjoyed or asserted in this state, whether the same be grounded on the riparian right or the right, analogous to the riparian right, of the overlying land owner, or the percolating water right, or the appropriative right.” Quoting the Cal Supremes, Joslin v. Marin Mun. Water Dist., 67 Cal.2d 132, 138 (1967).

  2. I’m glad the disparity between conservers and wastrels is recognized, but I’m just not sure that anything will come of it.

    Based on Los Angeles area water rationing fee schedules, our local utilities won’t accommodate households that already conserve: usage is mandated to drop by XX% regardless of whether you already waste or not. Based on similarity in group think, I suspect that state-wide water usage mandates will follow suit.

  3. onthepublicrecord

    That’s a shame about the LA area water rationing fee schedules. I know the Urban Shortage Contingency Plan guidebook recommends against creating your rates that ways. Pisses off the already thrifty.

    Still, that isn’t what is in the Draft 20 x 2020 plan. It might be revised after comment, but for now they’re asking the coasts for 5% more and the valleys for much more than that.

  4. Brent: I was pretty nervous reading a EBMUD letter a year-so ago, explaining why everyone had to reduce water use by XX%; my house had already put in low-flow whatevers and we couldn’t think where to cut next.

    But at the very bottom, with a table of ‘what you used last year’ next to ‘where the drought fees kick in this year’, it remarked that we were already in the lowest tranche of water use and if we stayed there we were all right.

    I suppose you could write a letter to the two water utilities asking to be sure that LA does something similar.

  5. onthepublicrecord

    I would be very surprised to hear about a district that didn’t have a lowest tranche (as Clew describes). There may be some, but I’ll be surprised to hear about it. I’d bet they get complaints.

  6. I think that my home water district is too small to be very sophisticated. Right now we’re in the advisory 10% cutback phase. We’ve also had rate and tier changes recently to encourage conservation with price signals.

    Knowing that we had recently had such changes, I went looking for a first tranche as Clew suggests. I found that Section E of my rate schedule, which appears to be effective Sept 1, 2009, does have a 5 HCF usage floor below which there is no penalty or rationing.

    Perhaps it was put there after a recent response letter that I wrote to the CPUC during the public comment period in which I noted the absence of a rationing floor:

    Mandatory rationing is based on average usage between 2004 and 2006. Of course by rationing, they mean “we’ll charge you more all of a sudden” not “you can’t have that glass of water”.

    5 HCF seems pretty far afield from reasonable given that the revenue-neutral point for my urban water district with respect to recent rate changes (18 HCF) and the upper limit of Tier 1 billing (the lowest rate) is 13 HCF. I conserve aggressively and if memory serves I’m mostly under the 13 HCF Tier 1 limit, but that’s still not very close to 5 HCF.

    I suspect that 5 HCF exemption is only there to placate people who pointed out its previous absence.