California drought: Tahoe-Truckee exceeding water conservation goals | SierraSun.com

California drought: Tahoe-Truckee exceeding water conservation goals

Josh Staab
jstaab@sierrasun.com
For the most part, the four major Tahoe-Truckee water districts are exceeding state-mandated conservation goals.
Courtesy Thinkstock.com | iStockphoto

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Visit bit.ly/1JAqJek to see findings from the State Water Resource Control Board regarding July 2015 water consumption for all 402 state water suppliers.

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BY THE NUMBERS

Total water use for local districts for the month of July 2015 in millions of gallons (in comparison to July 2013):

Truckee-Donner PUD: 148 (244) — a 39 percent reduction

North Tahoe PUD: 42 (58) — a 27 percent reduction

Tahoe City PUD: 49 (74) — a 33 percent reduction

South Tahoe PUD: 206 (285) — a 28 percent reduction

Gallons used for typical water uses:

1.3: One toilet flush (post-1993 high-efficiency toilet)

1.7: One minute of shower (post-1993 standard showerhead)

14.4: One laundry load (post-2006, high-efficiency washer)

620: Weekly summer minimum for 1,000 square feet of lawn

Source: California State Water Resources Control Board

TAHOE-TRUCKEE, Calif. — Following Gov. Jerry Brown’s ordered 25 percent cuts in urban water use by 2016 due to the California drought, the State Water Resources Control Board has been tabulating utility districts’ reductions, and the latest results show the Tahoe-Truckee region is exceeding goals.

However, the statistics only provide a glimpse into a more complex issue. There is more to it than just successfully implemented conservation programs, said Steven Poncelet, Truckee Donner Public Utility District’s public information and conservation manager.

“We do have a strong culture of conservation in (the Truckee-Donner) district,” he said. “However, I don’t want this to sound like it’s all rah-rah, go team.”

While customers reducing water use is to be lauded, Poncelet said that TDPUD exceeding its state-mandated reduction goal is not just due to its bevy of conservation programs and incentives — Mother Nature and other naturally occurring factors played a part as well.

“One of the reasons we did so well was because it rained,” said Poncelet, referring to the several rainy days in the region in July and August. “I don’t want to diminish our accomplishment, but I’m hesitant to say we are a bunch of heroes.”

While Brown’s mandate for California is an average of 25 percent, the State Water Resources Control Board has ordered urban water districts, depending on their level of use, to reduce water consumption between 4 percent and 36 percent.

TRUCKEE DONNER PUD

TDPUD provides water to approximately 32,776 Truckee-Donner residents. Based on that population’s water consumption in summer 2014, the state ordered the district to reduce consumption by 28 percent during the months of June 2015 through February 2016.

According to the WRCB’s most recent report for July 2015, TDPUD reduced consumption by 39 percent, reporting about 148.3 million gallons used, 79 percent of which were from residential use.

Compared to residential gallons used daily per capita, TDPUD used about 115, which represents about 27 more gallons than the state’s 98-gallon average.

According to the WRCB, in July, the limit on lawn watering was two days a week, and the district issued 3 warnings and assessed no penalties.

While Poncelet can’t argue with the positive numbers, he pointed out that TDPUD produces its water from the Martis Valley Basin, meaning 100 percent is groundwater and has probably been down there for thousands of years.

“We’re achieving these numbers, though we are not in a water supply shortage,” he said.

Come October, when summer irrigation systems shut down, hitting that 28 percent goal during the winter becomes more of a challenge, he said, which likely has something to do with how much snow comes to the area — and thus, how many visitors flood the region.

“The perfect storm that I joke about is that we get a massive winter — it just breaks the drought — and snows tons of feet,” Poncelet said. “Tons of people come up here, everything is going great, but in that period where we’re still required to hit that 28 percent, the water board would still be asking, ‘why isn’t TDPUD hitting its numbers?’”

TAHOE CITY PUD

The Tahoe City Public Utility District is also exceeding its reduction goal of 20 percent. The district reduced its water consumption by 33 percent in July 2015 compared to July 2013, according to the WRCB report.

The district provides water to a population of about 14,770 people. Of that population, 75 percent is judged by state officials on compliance with conservation orders, based on the district’s overall water consumption.

Like other regional other districts, this includes commercial and industrial consumption, as well as water lost to leaks and firefighting, the WRCB reports.

Unlike its Truckee-Donner counterpart, TCPUD reports using about 81 residential gallons per capita daily, which falls below the 98-gallon state average.

“We’ve redirected a lot of personnel to aggressively accomplishing this goal,” said TCPUD spokesman Kurt Althof.

Althof explained each customer has access to a district water calculator that helps determine the amount of water each can consume, based on customer historical consumption.

As consumption nears monthly limits, Althof said the district notifies customers so they can take measures to avoid overage fees.

Should consumption patterns change, customers can report significant use changes to the district, which will account for the discrepancies on a case-by-case basis.

While district-wide programs have been effective in cutting water use, Althof said the measures have resulted in additional labor costs, resulting in reduced annual revenue by about $300,000 to date.

“Maybe our revenue doesn’t go all the way back up to where it was, but maybe we don’t have the labor cost associated with teaching water conservation strategies in the future,” Althof said. “We hope revenue will go back, maybe not all the way, because people are living well with less water.”

North Tahoe PUD

The North Tahoe Public Utility District, meanwhile, missed its reduction goal of 28 percent by 1 percent.

The district, which provides water to a population of 7,500, used 42.3 million gallons in July, which accounted for a 27 percent reduction in use from July 2013.

For NTPUD, residential use made up 82 percent of total water consumption, or about 148 gallons of water per day — about 50 gallons more than the state average, according to WRCB.

Like other local communities, the Kings Beach-Tahoe Vista-Carnelian Bay area sees an influx of visitors and second-home owners, which isn’t accounted for when WRCB mandates are assigned, said NTPUD spokesman Ken Fischer.

“Part of the problem comes down to population,” Fischer said. “That number can be skewed during the summer months.”

Despite the approximate 1 percent discrepancy, Fischer believes the district is doing a good job within the means it has available.

He said the district hasn’t added additional personnel to make up for the added work it requires to notify customers, as well as create additional reduction strategies and increase oversight within the community.

“There are four of us assigned to specifically address the issue,” he said. “If the drought goes on another year, we might have to consider (adding personnel).”

In total, according to the WRCB, California’s urban water districts used 31.3 percent less water in July than in 2013. The next monthly update is due in late September.