Droughts, given the right collision of conditions, can take root anywhere, with sections of The Municipal’s readership already having experienced varying levels of drought early on in 2017. And as the traditional saying goes, “necessity is the mother of invention” with several states, cities and residents dealing with drought addressing water conservation and launching real actions to address its impact. If any state knows about such necessity, it is California. Its Gov. Jerry Brown first declared a drought emergency in 2014 and only in April 2017 did he declare an end to that drought — the state’s driest four-year period on record.
When it comes to water conservation and stewardship in the face of such conditions, California has turned out an immense number of innovative ideas that can be adapted throughout the country. Chula Vista, Calif., has a long history of sustainability efforts and first produced its climate action plan in 2000 before adding its water stewardship plan, which was approved by its city council in November 2016.
“The plan is an extension of the climate plan; it hits two stones at once with multiple actions,” Lynn France, manager of Chula Vista’s office of sustainability, said.
The plan was made possible with grants from the San Diego Foundation and the Bloomberg Award for Local Sustainability Matching Fund, and it brought together many partners from within the city government and its utilities in addition to citizens and local businesses. France noted the city has a history of engaging the community and, in preparation for the stewardship plan, hosted public workshops for community stakeholders.
“Not a lot came, but those who did had things to say,” France said. Other citizens responded to online surveys that were sent using all of the city’s mailing lists. Additionally, the city treated its two water districts as staff and received a lot of input from them.
“The community is used to us coming out there to talk to them, and they’re ready to give their opinions,” France said, adding, “It makes it easier for the council to adopt (policies) as everyone has already had their say.”
Feedback, according to France, “ran the gamut from those who said we were not doing enough to those who said they were not going to be able to do business. We heard from them all.”
Overall, France said while public outreach can be cumbersome at times, it brings good feedback to the table and they took everything into consideration. However, with the sheer amount of information and feedback, the city found itself overwhelmed when putting it all together, which is why it turned to Haley & Aldrich, an environmental and engineering consulting firm.
“Those involved were very impressed with Haley & Aldrich. They were able to put all the information together,” France said, noting more than a thousand pieces of information were handed over to the consultancy.
“There was a clear level of trust that the city had established with community members,” Amy Malick, sustainability strategist with Haley & Aldrich, said. “I was actually surprised with how thoughtful the responses were.”
Malick said all the ideas submitted during the planning process
could have easily resulted in 200 potential actions or initiatives. “The drought made everyone very conscious,” she remarked. In the end, actions had to be prioritized so they could be realistically achieved.
The end result was a multifaceted, comprehensive and holistic plan for water conservation, with five actions: raise the profile of water use and reuse performance; promote and expand water capture and reuse; improve water efficiency and reuse capacity in the built environment; encourage water-efficient landscape decisions; and promote green infrastructure. Malick said, “(The plan) is a blueprint on how the city will move forward.”
“Funding is the big challenge from the city side,” France said, noting the city can decrease its water use; however, it also requires a lot of turf removal and drought-resistant plants going in. As noted in the stewardship plan, irrigation made up 42 percent of the city operation’s potable water use in 2015.
One method to reduce potable water use — in addition to droughttolerant landscaping — is the use of laundry-to-landscape gray water. In fact, France said, “All new homes are pre-plumbed for this (laundry to landscape).” At one point, gray water toilets were also brought up; however, France noted, “A lot of stakeholders would say ‘Let’s do this!’ They don’t get all the steps involved.” Still she added, “We are looking at having more dialogue on water reuse beyond laundry to landscape.”
One thought involves the soccer field where the city is considering switching to compost rather than using chemical fertilizer, which not only eliminates chemical runoff but will help the field better retain water. The end result should decrease downtimes for the soccer field, which would occur for a couple of months so the turf could recover. The city has already been grass cycling and continues to explore other types of grasses that can better hold up to salt, which is found in reclaimed water.
New water flow meters have also gone in place in the park department, which allows for staff members to control water flow from their phones. This saves workers time if there is a sprinkler head malfunctioning since they can cut the water flow — in this case, gray water — without having to drive to the location. “We don’t want to waste even reused water,” France said.
Buildings made up 43 percent of all potable water use in Chula Vista’s city operations in 2015. To lessen that, the city is currently in midst of redoing its library’s bathroom, which hadn’t been revamped since it was installed in 1976. The project will place water-saving fixtures, and there will even be educational signs that highlight them. Chula Vista’s city hall complex will also be receiving water conservation features while the city continues to work toward LEED certification. “We still have a good portion of the city waiting to be built,” France said.
For this reason, the city is also examining the wording of its building codes to make sure they continue the city’s sustainability mission. Some new builds are already on board, including an LEED community that has installed corner catch basins with flower beds to keep water from leaving the community. These catch basins have an added bonus, with France noting their aesthetic value.
The fact Chula Vista is still growing increases the necessity of a water stewardship plan, with France saying the population of the city is expected to be well over 300,000. “We have to minimize the impact of all those people.”
Additionally, the city’s water goal will also benefits its pockets. France said, “With our energy efficiency (efforts), water is now the most expensive utility in the city. It’s another motivating factor.”
“We undertook this during a major drought (in California),” Malick said, noting despite the drought easing, water conservation and stewardship should remain a priority. “You don’t know how long it will be until the next one (drought). Don’t wait for when you have a California-style drought to consider (water stewardship).”
When it comes to other cities and towns looking at water conservation and other sustainability goals, France said, “I would say we have a really nice plan that they can follow along with and modify to their needs. The overarching actions are pretty universal and they can make them personal. There is so much information to put their arms around.
Both Chula Vista’s climate action plan and water stewardship plan can be viewed at www.chulavistaca.gov/departments/clean.