Had to work Monday and Tuesday morning had to take one of my dogs to the vet (not good, a sad matter to time now) so missed most of the Planning Commission meeting on the LOWWP, but by Tuesday afternoon, it was clear that two changes had been made in a day and a half: Tonini spray fields were rapidly being pushed off the table and the Sustainability Group’s project report was being taken seriously, particularly as to water conservation.
The Groups main message was water NOT used is water NOT needing expensive treatment and disposal. Less water to be disposed of means other options for disposal and re-use will work and there could be no need for the Tonini spray fields to “waste” the wastewater outside the basin. (Without a strong conservation component, the county’s plan ended up with too much water to be disposed of, hence the spray fields to get rid of the stuff. In an overdrafted community, NOT using water in the first place and/or reusing water makes sense, while “disposing” of water is nuts.)
But now, in place of Tonini, the Giacomazzi, Cemetery, Andre part 1 & 2 were being seriously looked at with returning water to the basin, urban re-use, purple-pipe sites, recharge, ag use and water conservation now the driving principle. The county’s plan included about a 10% conservation rate, based on encouraging toilet refits, public education & etc. The Sustainability Group’s report indicated the possibility of achieving even higher rates of conservation by taking money saved from not using Tonini and using that to buy and install high-efficiency low-flow toilets, and/or hot-water recirculators and/or high-efficiency washing machines for every home in the PZ. It would come in the form of up to $1,000 per household, and part of the money would pay for trained water monitors who would do an onsite water-check of each house (like PG&E and The Gas Company do now for energy checks) to determine just where the biggest bang for the buck could be made, depending on the size of the house, the number of toilets, etc. (The washing machine suggestion is iffy since they’re portable. So the focus is likely to be on fixed elements that will stay on the property. However, if $1,000 is allocated to each house and homeowners can install the new toilets themselves, they could use part of what they saved out of that $1,000 and apply it to a new washer & etc. which would then have an impact on community water flows It could be set up as a sort of cap & trade deal. The details of this will have to be looked at closer, that’s for sure.)
And, human nature being what it is, including the cost of installation and actually installing the toilets will get higher compliance than just hoping vouchers or rebates will do the trick since the cost to install a toilet can be has much as the toilet itself. And folks who are on a tight budget anyway can easily just let good intentions go by the wayside. Plus, the good thing about using better technology is that people’s bad habits are nearly impossible to change. Technology can save them in spite of themselves. The water savings appear like magic, with little or no effort or sacrifice on the part of the homeowner.
In a straw poll, the Commissioners voted 5-0 to consider making it a condition that if a permit is granted for whatever project is picked, $5 million up-front money would be spent NOW to get those retrofits in place, thereby gaining water savings 3-4 years before the sewer plant is finished. Plus NOT pumping lower aquifer water to flush down old fashioned toilets will help halt the salt water intrusion. Monitoring the water use would also enable the project designers to get a better indication of how much the wastewater flows are actually being saved. And water purveyors are also planning on further hikes in water rates, using a tiered system, charging more for more water used.
One Irony at work, in a project filled with ironies, is according to Dr. T’s text book on small flows, the more water you conserve, the less water is in a gravity system, hence more clogs and need to flush the system with . . . more water . . thereby you often end up zeroing out your “savings.” This sort of wasted water, of course, doesn’t happen in a STEP system.
In the meantime, it’s clear that there will be no new building in the PZ until the water basin issues are solved (also the Habitat Conservation Plan is finished) so if people thought they could build their dream homes one the sewer’s up and running will likely be surprised.
The staff was instructed to prepare language for the water conservation element and also to clarify the various re-use numbers, which were often unclear or in conflict, so the Commissioners can re-add up the gallonage guestimates and thereby see if a system scaled down to reflect post water conservation numbers will allow for water return to the basin, feasible ag-exchange or in lieu of, safe disposal yield at Broderson (without risk of mounding or surfacing) and other schemes will put the disposal numbers into a safe, can-do, guaranteed area, with plenty of contingency left over. If that works, Tonini spray fields may be off the table.
The next meeting in the BOS chambers will be Tuesday, July 23rd, starting at 1:30 p.m. (the morning will be taken up with another issue, they should be through with that by lunch) and will go to the end of the day with the possibility of carrying over to the 24th, if needed.