Calaveras County, conservation kings

While Stockton snagged local headlines for its 41 percent reduction in water use in June, it was the Calaveras County Water District that achieved the lowest per-capita water use — a thrifty 57 gallons per person per day, lower than any other major water supplier in the San Joaquin River watershed.

Fifty-five gallons per day is generally considered the standard for indoor water use alone. So that gives you some idea how well the folks up in the Lode have been doing.

And what, exactly, are they doing that the rest of us aren’t?

It’s hard to tell. The water district’s water conservation ordinance isn’t all that different from others in the region, though it does contain two interesting provisions: One requiring commercial landscapes, schools and parks to reduce water use by 35 percent, and one requiring that potable water delivered to golf courses be used only for tees and greens, and only if those golf courses have maximized their use of recycled water.

District spokesman Joel Metzger also described an aggressive water conservation campaign which he says contributed to the region’s “incredible” effort.

“I attended just about every community meeting I could and spoke about drought and water conservation,” Metzger told me in an email.

The district also partnered with local hardware stores to distribute water conservation supplies, like faucet aerators and low-flow showerheads. Lots of water districts offer such supplies free of charge, but customers often have to take the initiative to call and request them. Making them easily available in hardware stores seems like a good step.

Calaveras also seems to be approaching the drought from more of a regional standpoint, putting together a nifty website that addresses the whole county. Then again, so did San Joaquin.

Finally, how the district calculated its per-capita usage also comes into play. Metzger says the district made two adjustments. First, it ignored “non-revenue” water that never makes it to customers and therefore, Metzger said, shouldn’t be counted against them. These are things like leaks, water used to flush pipes, and water used for firefighting. Not counting that water brings down the county’s overall water usage as reported to the state.

Second, Calaveras factored out some of its seasonal population — chiefly, people who visit vacation homes during the summer. That lowered its population as reported to the state, and therefore its gallons-per-person number. Many water districts didn’t take that step, which could also help explain why the Calaveras numbers are so low compared to others.

In the end, it’s tough to make comparisons, tempting as it is. Microclimate, methodology, demographics, the socioeconomics of very different communities — there are plenty of factors that could influence per-capita water usage. And I’m not about to pretend like I’m smart enough to figure it all out.

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