State Water Board workshop on urban conservation efforts, part 1: Statewide water conservation efforts and outreach

Felicia 2At the June 17 meeting of the State Water Resources Control Board, board members heard an informational update on the conservation actions that urban water suppliers have taken in response to the drought.

The Governor’s April 25, 2014 Executive Order to redouble statewide efforts in water conservation directed the SWB to request an update from urban water suppliers on their actions to reduce water use in response to the drought, and assess the effectiveness of those actions,” said Chair Felicia Marcus in her opening remarks. “It further directed us to ensure that urban water suppliers that are not already implementing drought response plans and limiting outdoor irrigation and other wasteful water practices, and provided the state board with the authority to adopt emergency regulations needed to implement these directives.”

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On May 23, 2014, staff sent an email to approximately 440 of the state’s largest urban water supplier requesting that they complete an online survey, identifying current water shortage conditions in their jurisdictions, and the actions they are to conserve water, including whether or not the supplier had invoked its water shortage contingency plan,” she said. “The survey also requested 2014 monthly water production data for the first half of calendar year 2014, as compared to average monthly production for the previous three years. Today we’re going to hear from staff on the results of that survey, as well as from our state agency partners, from water associations and from forward-looking water suppliers about where we stand, what more can and should be done, and what actions the board should take in response to the drought emergency.”

This workshop will be covered in four parts:

  • In part 1, Peter Brostrom with the Department of Water Resources and Mark Bartson with the Department of Public Health will discuss the state’s overall drought measures; Nancy Vogel and Jennifer Persike will discuss the Save Our Water campaign, and water board staff member Max Gomberg will discuss the results of the water board’s survey.
  • In Part 2, Dave Bolland with ACWA, Beau Goldie from CUWA, and Greg Weber from CUWCC will discuss their members efforts in encouraging urban conservation.
  • In Part 3, representatives from the Santa Cruz water department, Eastern Municipal Water District, Sacramento Regional Water Authority, and Inland Empire Utilities Agency discuss what efforts themselves and their member agencies are undertaking in response to the drought.
  • In Part 4, board members discuss with staff what potential actions, if any, the Board can take.

Peter Brostrom, Department of Water Resources

Peter Brostrom began with an update on the progress the state has made towards its urban conservation goal of 20% by the year 2020.

He noted that in urban supplier’s 2010 water management plan, suppliers reported their baseline was use and set targets for the years 2015 and 2020, and the next time suppliers are required to report their progress would be in the 2015 plans, which won’t be submitted until the summer of 2016.  “So we decided to try to survey progress,” he said. “We contacted state, regional and individual water suppliers to gather data on their annual GPCD. We received data from 147 water suppliers; they supply water to roughly 22 million people, or 60% of the states’ population. Their average baseline GPCD was 191, compared to a state average of 196, so the roughly the same type of agencies. They are diverse across the state, north to south. They tend to be a little larger than the average, but we plan to continue to seek out and request data from other water suppliers so that we can represent the state’s progress both regionally and make sure it’s truly a representation sample of the state’s progress.”

061714_10_brostrom_Page_04He then presented a graph showing statewide progress towards the 20% by 2020 goal, noting that the red line across the top is the average baseline of 196 GPCD (gallons per day) for all the retail water suppliers who submitted plans. He noted that the baseline period can vary between water suppliers but generally it’s from 1996 – 2005. “Based on that average baseline, the state’s 2020 goals would be 156 GPCD, and the interim goal for 2015 is 176 GPCD,” said Mr. Brostrom. “Surveying the water suppliers, we found that in 2013, for 147 water suppliers, the average GPCD was 157, which is an 18% reduction from their average baseline for this select group of suppliers. The other data points are what the water use was for each year the suppliers reported in their plans to show the variation over time.”

We see this as a significant reduction,” he said. “The state is on good progress toward making the goal, but it’s difficult to attribute. People question whether all of it is due to conservation. The economic downturn had some effect on it, but 2013 was the driest water year on record and without it being declared a drought, so you would expect water to increase during a year like that, yet the value is still at 157 GPCD. So that’s the data we have so far on progress towards 2020.”

Mr. Brostrom then reviewed the drought actions that DWR has taken, which include:

  • holding drought workshops for landscapers in partnership with UC Davis, local agencies and irrigation companies;
  • small water system workshops in partnership with the California Rural Water Association on leak detection and drought preparedness;
  • two landscape symposiums in partnership with the California Urban Water Conservation Council, which discussed how sustainable landscapes can become the default or the normal landscape in California; and
  • a drought water rate webinar in partnership with ACWA that had over 200 attendees online.

He said that there is $200 million available in IRWM for drought programs with applications for those funds due July 21, and there is an additional $19 million in water-energy cap and trade funds with the draft guidelines for those funds to be released July 1.

He added that following the Governor’s executive order, state agencies and the Department are reporting water use for their facilities on a monthly basis, and state facilities are limiting or eliminating landscape irrigation, water use in fountains, and other measures, so state facilities are making an effort as well.

Mark Bartson, Department of Public Health

Mark Bartson began by saying that he normally heads up a section that oversees recycled water, regulatory development, and some technical assistance in water treatment technology, but for the past two months, he’s headed up the division’s center for drought response.

Mr. Bartson then discussed the annual report from large water systems to the drinking water program, noting that the Department has been collecting this data as long-term, and the last four or five years are now in an electronic database. The data includes the water produced from wells, surface water purchased, potable water, water sold to other public water systems, and recycled water production by month. “The questions about population are always a little pestering, but what we do always have are the number of service connections,” he said, noting that they have a high response rate, especially for the larger systems of over 1000 connections.

It’s a fairly lengthy document that’s evolved over time and is very familiar to the water systems, he said. He noted that on page 19 are the specific questions related to the drought that they were asked, which included do they have a drought preparedness plan, what they anticipated going forward this year, and whether they were anticipating mandatory rationing in the upcoming year. He reminded that the survey is asking about the previous year, 2013. “We had to develop this early in the calendar year and get it out and up for people to fill it out, so we weren’t extremely ambitious,” he said. “We wanted to make sure we asked a few of the right questions, but more importantly, we wanted to get a baseline of information, because even though we are asking about the previous year, we can use this to identify upcoming problems.”

Community water systems are our highest priority, after that the schools and the non-transient, and then the non-community systems that are businesses that if push came to shove, they could probably close if they didn’t have water,” he said. “So we focus our efforts on the community water systems. Typically the smaller ones need the most help, so we’ve developed a guidance document to help them through the thought process if they are trying to figure out to what extent they have a problem.

A lot of this might not look ambitious and that’s partly by design with these smaller systems as we want them to be talking to the people that could help them, whether that’s our regulators, their peers, technical assistance providers and their consultants and so on,” he said. “We find a lot of water systems will share resources if we can get them pointed in the right direction.”

We are working closely with the Office of Emergency Services on tracking the systems that are either critical or vulnerable condition,” he said. “Currently the list of those is thankfully less than 50 or so, but there are a number of systems that are on the fringe that we’ll be tracking. The good news is that we’re not dealing with too many systems that are really bad, but we all know that’s going to evolve and change this year.” He added they have a $15 million drought emergency fund for systems that they are hoping to fund relatively small projects with.

One of the side effects we see when systems start running out of water and turning to other sources is this question about alternate sources – maybe an old agricultural well, maybe a well that’s not as deep as you like it to be, so we’re trying to make sure when we’re reviewing any alternative source, that we provide additional mitigation measures in terms of chlorination and monitoring and that we really know what we need to know about that source so we’re not creating another problem,” he said. “Maybe a system has to turn a well with marginal or high nitrates and needs to figure out if they can blend it or do public notification, so we need to do all of those things right.”

Save Our Water program: Nancy Vogel and Jennifer Persike

We know that the public, when asked to take action, will do so,” began Jennifer Persike, Deputy Executive Director for External Affairs and Operations. “We’re seeing great willingness on the part of the public to do what they can do during this drought, and that was really whole idea behind Save Our Water when it was established in 2009 during our last drought.”

061714_10_vogelpersike_Page_03The Save Our Water program is a statewide umbrella program that includes public education and public outreach both on why we need to conserve and how to conserve, Ms. Persike said. “It is a very unique program in that it is a partnership between ACWA which administers the program, and the Department of Water Resources,” she said. “We really work as one team to maximize the resources, and it’s just a great interaction in different roles that we play that come together and make the program work and maximize the messaging that we can do.”

Funding for the program originally came from Prop 84 funds with added support from ACWA and local agencies, and the program has stretched those funds for the last five and a half years, she said. “The program is research-based,” she said. “Everything we do is based on statewide public opinion research. One of things we learned from that is that the public is willing to conserve but doesn’t really know that they use more outdoor than they do indoor, so the Save Our Water program has been focusing on outdoors, and you’ll see that throughout everything we do in the program.”

It’s a very robust program in that we use every avenue that we can think of on a shoestring, to get the word out, she said. The program is intended to appeal to regular Californians, but also includes tools for water agencies to help standardize messages as well as provide tools and other things that they may not be able to come up with at the local level with the resources they have at their disposal.

jen and nancyThe program has partnered with Sunset Magazine, Bed Bath & Beyond, Orchard Hardware Supply, and other businesses, and is looking at other partnership opportunities to reach out to consumers. “Right now we have what about 500 partners – agencies, organizations, and associations that we push information to and then they push it out even further than we’re able to do directly.”

The website has a number of tools that are available to agencies and organizations to complement local programs, including in both English and Spanish, and with indoor and outdoor options. The materials are intended to be sliced and diced so agencies can take any of these components and put them together, she explained.

We pride ourselves on the program that wants to be ripped off,” she said. “We want all of our stuff to be ripped off and used. We charge for nothing. We just want the material to be used well and get the word out.”

This year, we were excited to come up with something to peak Californians interest and tap into their ethic and their attitude that is unique to Californians, and that is that Californians simply don’t waste,” said Ms. Persike. “That’s the message we’re using this year throughout all of our materials and all of our various campaigns we have running, and we have really moved to some tongue and cheek graphics; we’ve heard a few comments about the wipes, but our theory is that to catch the public’s attention in 2014, you have to turn up the heat a little bit or it won’t even get noticed. So we’re getting our message out trying to use some humor but to make that point that in this year, we’re expecting different behavior from Californians.”

Nancy Vogel, Director of Public Affairs for the Department of Water Resources, then discussed the other outreach efforts the Save Our Water program has been doing.

We plan to be at the California State Fair this year with two exhibits,” said Nancy Vogel. “We’ll have our award-winning water wise garden beds in the farm section of the state fair, and will also have an indoor exhibit in the County’s building where we’re going to have a classic California 061714_10_vogelpersike_Page_07home and we’re going to be able show you how to save water in the laundry room, the bathroom, the kitchen, etc. Ever since the program was started, we’ve done a lot of this community outreach where we set up the booth and hand out the materials and talk to people one on one about saving water.”

Working together, the graphic designers at ACWA and DWR created the series, ‘Californians Don’t Waste’ public service announcements,” she said. “We think the theme helps cross regional divides and we think it helps pull the state together, and we chose it in part because it works for electricity as well.” She added that they are also teaming up with the California utilities on a Save Energy, Save Water campaign.

They also launched the ‘Californians Don’t Waste Challenge’ which invited the public to submit photos and videos of themselves saving water in different ways, and with the help of videographers at the Office of Emergency Services, they produced four video public service announcements, which are in the tool kit for anyone to use, Ms. Vogel said.

In April, the program received an infusion of $1 million in emergency drought funding, which has made it possible for us to do paid advertising, she said. “We’ve done billboards, radio spots across the state, and social media and digital advertising and boosts. We were fortunate to have EBMUD pay for the entire month of April a huge billboard at the eastern end of the Bay Bridge, and who knows how many people that reached. We also advertised on the internet-based radio services Pandora and iHeart, and received a good response from that.”

save our water
Click here to visit the Save Our Water website.

With our digital and social media boosts and advertisements, we’ve been able to go from 50,000 Facebook followers in March to beyond 73,000, and on Twitter we’ve got 10,000 followers,” Ms. Vogel added.

If there’s more funding for the program in the upcoming year, it will help continue our social media and digital efforts, she said. “We will continue to work with the utilities on the Save Water, Save Energy campaign this summer. We have ‘A Hundred Days of Summer’ campaign that we’re pulling together that will feature a tip every day or feature a local corporation or business or person who has a great idea on how to save water and we’re going to continue to produce more PSAs.”

We’re hoping corporations will help us underwrite PSAs or use their video capabilities, and we’re looking to form partnerships on product giveaways, she said. “We’re also working with four major league baseball teams and hope to have deals cut with them real soon – just within a few weeks.”

Results of the State Water Board Survey of Urban Water Suppliers

Max Gomberg, Climate Change Advisor to the Board then gave the results of the survey water board staff conducted back in May, noting that the April Executive Order from the Governor directed the Board to assess progress on water conservation from urban suppliers in response to the drought. The survey was sent out on May 23rd with support from DWR, Department of Public Health, ACWA, CUWA, and the California Urban Water Conservation Council. The survey asked about plan implementation, specific measures, and some water production data.

We didn’t get the level of responses we would have hoped for,” said Mr. Gomberg. “Partially that’s because we had some issues with the survey in that we didn’t have the best list of contacts and we had some outdated information. Also some of the surveys went into recipient’s spam or junk mail boxes, unfortunately. So if the Board directs staff to follow up and collect additional data going forward, I can assure you we will get a better response rate. I think we’ve learned from this. But as you can see, we did reach almost 2/3rds of the state’s population in the responses we received.”

We collected water production data from wholesale and retail water suppliers, removing the wholesaler production data to avoid double counting,” he explained. “For the wholesalers who are also retailers, such as the SF PUC and others, we prorated the data based on the ratio of retail to wholesale population.”

We did get complete data from most folks,” he said. “We didn’t get it from everyone, and of those who did not submit the production data, the biggest gap is San Diego County; the County Water Authority and some of its retail agencies declined to submit that data. They felt that the comparison period that staff came up with – 2011 through 2013 – was inappropriate for various reasons. In 2011, MWD had imposed restrictions on deliveries to its member agencies, so that drove use down. 2011 winter was wet, which drove use down, and we were still in economic recovery, so essentially use was lower during that period, and therefore what our data provides does not show a full picture.” He noted that they heard from a number of agencies and organizations who suggested using the baseline for 2020.

Slightly only half of those surveyed have formally invoked their drought plans, and some of them have had their water shortage plan in effect well before this year, he said. He noted that in the written comments, there were multiple suppliers that reported that their board and city councils would be considering additional actions in June. “Based on our survey results, there were 47% of respondents who have not invoked any type of water shortage contingency plan,” he said.

061714_10_staffpres_Page_07He then presented a chart showing the breakdown of which urban suppliers reported having a shortage. “The blue and the red are the quarter of respondents who have reported a shortage, either more than 20% of less than 20%, and almost half the respondents are not reporting a shortage. However, there was almost a third that did not respond to this question.”  There was discussion at this point about why, with the definition of shortage not being made clear identified as possibly the cause.

061714_10_staffpres_Page_08He then presented a slide with two pie charts on it with one being a comparison of the water suppliers that have invoked their contingency plans and the other have not. “It’s about 53% of the respondents that have invoked them, and 47% that haven’t,” he said. “So what you can see on the right is those who have invoked the plans, it’s a much larger share that have now gone to mandatory measures, whereas on the left that those who haven’t invoked some sort of water shortage or contingency plan, about three-quarters of them are asking for voluntary measures.”

Everyone has stepped up the outreach and messaging, and almost two-thirds are requesting 20% in line with the Governor’s ask, he said.

061714_10_staffpres_Page_10He then presented a slide of water production data. “We took the combined average of 2011 through 2013 by month and compared it then to 2014 data that was provided to us and what you can see is in January water use was up around the state. January was an incredibly dry month with virtually no precipitation so that’s not surprising. And then it’s flat February through April and then what you can see is that May looks good. There’s been a significant decline in usage around 25%. Now we have to caveat this. We sent this survey on May 23, and not everyone who replied to it had finalized May data, so some of this is based on estimation, but nevertheless, it’s a promising sign that May usage went down.”

061714_10_staffpres_Page_11He next presented a slide that broke down the results by region, noting that this is comparing the 2011-13 data to 2014 data. “Statewide water use is down by 5% … the Sacramento region doing well, the Bay Area doing not so well … In the Sacramento region, for areas that reported having a shortage, use is down by 12%, and in the South Coast, for areas that reported a shortage, use is down by 13%, so there is really a difference between folks who have already reported shortage and actions they’ve taken and those that haven’t.”

We found that there are significant number of retailers who really follow the lead of their wholesale agency in that a lot of retailers look to the wholesaler to signal when it’s time to take additional actions,” he said. “In Southern California in particular, a lot of the reporting was ‘we are following Met’s lead, we know that reservoir levels being drawn down but there’s nothing imminent.’”

These are just a couple of examples of how urban suppliers are responding to the drought,” he said. “There’s clearly a lot of good work going on out there to boost conservation, and a lot of innovation in how to do it. As you’ve seen through the data, although May looks good, it seems like there’s more work to be done, and next after the two panels, we’ll be back to discuss options the board could consider for emergency regulations.”

For more information …

  • To view the power points from all presentations, click here.

Coming tomorrow …

The State Water Board hears from urban water associations.

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