California is in a severe drought and most water districts have enacted mandatory restrictions designed to reduce water consumption and encourage conservation. In the bay area, there are multiple water districts, serving unique areas and utilizing difference reservoirs to supply water. Some of these districts are more advanced, providing gray water (recycled water) for landscaping and non-potable purposes, while others are severely lacking. In Pleasanton, Zone 7 is just starting to implement recycled water for city owned parks and direct access to this water (via the water system) for public use is a long way off.
The lack of investment in the water infrastructure has required Zone 7 customers to cut back water usage more than other water district customers. Contra Costa Water District is requesting (meaning voluntary) a 10% cut back. East Bay MUD (Municipal Utility District) has a required 10% reduction. Zone 7 has a strict 25% reduction requirement and severe penalties for those that don’t meet it.
While the intent of the mandatory reduction is good and I fully support it, the process in determining each customer’s success is significantly flawed. To determine if a water account has met the required 25% reduction, water usage for the current period is compared to water usage from the same time period one year prior. This may work well for residential households with limited to no fluctuation in occupancy, from a commercial building standpoint, it doesn’t work at all.
First, Pleasanton Corporate Commons has been actively working towards reducing domestic (water use inside the buildings) water consumption since the first LEED certification done in 2007. Second, the property’s occupancy has increased several percentage points since last year. Third, density (the number of people in the buildings) has increased as well. Finally, we’ve done all we can from an engineering perspective to eliminate or reduce water usage.
This arbitrary approach to measuring water reduction fails to consider all of the above items. In fact, it penalizes properties that have been forward thinking and taken action prior to now to conserve water. Perhaps most annoying about this, are the articles in the local weekly paper highlighting large business parks that have reduced water consumption by more than 70%. “Some have done much more, he said, including Koll Center, a business park that has reduced its consumption by 71% over its 2013 usage” (link). I’m sorry, but if you can reduce water consumption by 70% year over year, you’ve clearly been overusing water in years past.
Irrigation usage is much the same. Our conservation efforts from prior years are now being penalized. Pleasanton Corporate Commons has taken many measures to reduce irrigation usage through the removal of plant material, installation of EvapoTranspiration Controllers (ET Controllers) and more efficient sprinkler nozzles.
The water municipality and City should develop an alternative method for measuring water reduction requirements. A more intelligent and advanced approach would be to compare the current case water usage (for domestic water this would be based on occupancy and fixture types, for irrigation it would be water coefficient, plant type and coverage, evapotranspiration rate and irrigation efficiency) against base case usage to determine total percentage of reduction. Granted this method is not as straight forward as simply comparing year over year usage, but it’s much more accurate.
One final thing before I stop ranting about water usage. Actively managing water use is one of the many things good property managers and firms do when overseeing the operation of a property. I can’t help but wonder how much higher operating expenses are in a property that is overusing water by 70%+. That not only makes the cost of occupancy higher for the tenants, but it hurts the valuation of the project during an appraisal or sale. And if water is being mismanaged, what else is?