Report: Water conservation criticalBy Julia Scott
"Water" is the watchword of a new report reflecting the environmental, economic and social health of San Mateo County, and it appears that in the very near future, there may not be enough of it to go around.
Such was the conclusion shared at a news conference held Thursday by Sustainable San Mateo County to announce the release of their annual "Sustainable Indicators" report, an overview and call to action on issues as diverse as crime, homelessness and air pollution.
The 2008 report devotes a special section to the county's water supply and demand, and officials at the meeting were at pains to point out the many success stories - cities that have installed low-flow toilets in government offices and homes, installed artificial turf grass and launched education programs to encourage the use of drought-resistant gardening plants.
The spotlight was on Redwood City, however, which launched its 50-million-gallon water recycling project in 2007 to irrigate lawns with treated, recycled wastewater from the South Bayside System Authority. Using the recycled water will free up 50 million gallons of potable water per year for something else - in Redwood City's case, most likely the needs of new development.
"We're reducing our demand in precious drinking water that we're not going to get any more of. That's just a reality in this part of the world," said Peter Ingram, interim city manager, standing next to a recycled water marsh in front of the water treatment plant.
That reality, according to the report, is that the allotted supply of Hetch Hetchy water sold to San Mateo County residents by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission will begin to fall behind demand by 2010. By 2030, demand for water, driven by population growth on the Peninsula, is projected to increase by 19 percent. Questions about global warming and its potential effects on the Sierra snowpack, the Bay Area's main water source, have made the issue even more urgent.
"Don't count on more water comingfrom that source. That is tapped out," said Art Jensen, general manager of the Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency, which distributes water to 27 cities across the region.
The only real solution, according to Jensen, is water conservation - and water recycling projects are a big part of that. Redwood City and Daly City are the only places in the county with recycled-water projects underway; Pacifica has long been in talks about it, as has the Sewer Authority Midcoastside near Half Moon Bay.
The member agencies of BAWSCA have committed to water conservation projects that will collectively save 58 million gallons of water per day by 2030, according to Jensen. For comparison's sake, that amounts to two-thirds of the water San Francisco residents use each day. Jensen would like to see that goal accomplished by 2010, if possible, and to increase the total amount of conservation as well.
Among the most notable positive trends in the county last year were good air quality and lower carbon dioxide pollution. Rising gas prices meant fewer people were driving, although driving times increased as traffic worsened. Gang-related homicides were at their lowest level since 2002. More cities adopted green building plans. And in 2006, the most recent year available, the Ox Mountain landfill received the lowest amount of total solid waste for any year since 1997.
On the down side, some of the most important indicators of a community's overall health - housing, poverty and health care - saw negative trends in 2006 and 2007. The subprime loan crisis had no effect on the Peninsula's housing prices, which increased again from 2006. In 2007, one-third of all households earned less than $71,827, the county's "self-sufficiency threshold" for a family of three. Meanwhile, Atherton had a median household income of $226,414. In 2007, health care costs across the Bay Area grew by 7 percent.
To learn more or order a copy of the report, contact Sustainable San Mateo County at 650-638-2323 or visit http://www.sustainablesanmateo.org.
Copyright ©2008 San Mateo County Times. Published 04/11/2008.