City's water conservation advocate offers tips

By Elizabeth Marie Himchak

City of San Diego residents who need help dealing with the Public Utilities Department on water issues have an advocate they can call.

David Akin, the city’s Public Utilities customer advocate, said he helps locals get their water bills adjusted after a leak is fixed, repairs done on the city side of their meter, navigate bureaucracy when getting a new or smaller meter installed and assists if they are not getting the help needed when calling for customer care.

Akin can be reached at 619-533-4275 or DAkin@sandiego.gov.

He answered the questions of around two dozen residents at Monday night’s workshop on how to conserve water and understand water bills. The event was hosted by City Councilman Mark Kersey at the Rancho Bernardo Library.

“Think of me as your seat at the table,” Akin said. “I help navigate the complexity of the city.”

Akin explained why there is a base fee on water bills — it recovers fixed costs based on meter size — plus three-tiered usage pricing. The latter customers can control through conservation. The wastewater section also has a base fee, but customers can control their annual service fee rates by using less water from December to March, when the fee is adjusted for the coming year.

“If your (water) consumption is low in the winter, you will have a lower sewer bill,” he said.

Bills can be decreased if the meter is deemed too large. Customers can request the city review their usage needs to see if a smaller meter can be installed. Factors can include converting landscaping from grass and plants needing lots of water to a drought-tolerant design. For landscaping suggestions, go to

www.sdcwa.org/garden-friendly-plant-fairs

.

Akin said there are three reasons a bill can suddenly be high — there was higher water consumption than thought (factors include new landscaping, over watering, filling a pool or pond, guests, kids home for the summer, hose left on and warmer weather), there is a water system leak or meter reading error.

If there is a leak in an irrigation system, toilet, water heater, washing machine, hidden pipes or service line, sometimes the bill can be adjusted after repairs are made, he said. A common problem is the pressure valve that should be occasionally checked.

Residents can also control their consumption by taking a free water survey; installing low-flow shower heads, faucets and aerators; and checking irrigation timers. For other tips, go to www.sandiego.gov/water/conservation or call 619-515-3500.

With 85 percent of San Diego’s water imported, Kersey said the city has very little control over water costs. “We’re really at the mercy of those we buy water from,” he said.

Steps are being taken to generate more local water, but are several years off. A desalination plant will provide 7 percent of the water San Diegans need when it comes online in 2016. “Desalination is not cheap, but when it’s done will be a reliable source,” Kersey said.

As for recycling water for potable use, Kersey said, “I was skeptical at the beginning, but now think it makes a lot of sense.”

He said San Diegans are to be commended for reducing water consumption a few years ago when drought conditions and water supply shortages necessitated it, and is encouraging locals to continue those efforts.

“Hopefully it was not too big a crimp on your lifestyle,” he said.

Kersey said through office budget savings by himself and predecessor, Carl DeMaio, some District 5 tax dollars have recently been redirected to installing smart controllers in Carmel Mountain Ranch medians, converting landscaping in some Rancho Bernardo medians to drought-tolerant plants and relandscaping some Black Mountain Ranch medians to require less water.

   
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