Drought: Restrictions and Responses
In most countries, regional and local governments have had to impose restrictions on water use in time of drought.
The need may be regular, recurrent, occasional, short-term, or tong term. Actions vary, from urging conservation and publicizing suggested standards to outright usage bans. Remedies depend on: (1) drought severity; (2) importance of work and lifestyle changes affected; and (3) inevitable political factors.
Employment of window-cleaners, fortunately, usually draws government concern when it is necessary to restrict window cleaning. They form a formidable bloc of special-interest, “single-issue” voters.
Drought in England
When we think of arid countries, England rarely comes to mind. Nevertheless, in 2006, southeastern England experienced its driest period in 75 years.
Temperature gain has accompanied drought. A British study found that 2006 was the warmest year there since 1659. There were predictions of higher 2007 temperatures. In 2006 the national Government authorized water companies to impose drought emergencies. This initially caused unease among window cleaners, yet the result was encouraging. Those of us in other countries have to wonder if things would work out as rationally and considerately where we live.
The Government issued the first drought orders to water companies servig Sutton and East Surrey in England’s gamed desert southeast. Companies in nearby areas quickly sought orders too.
Window cleaning groups won support from the Health and Safety Executive to continue operations. HSE appears to be the rough equivalent of the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA). Some industry suppliers and news media joined in. All urged companies to allow window cleaning by water-fed poles.
The companies agreed. But they insisted that water be supplied to the poles via portable tanks and vans rather than “mains” (public water supplies). They also required use of buckets to clean ground floor windows where possible.
In addition to upholding water conservation, there was fear that some cleaners would revert to ladders, violating “Work at Height Restrictions.” This would reintroduce dangers for cleaners that those regulations had reduced. Settling the controversy may have prevented the dangers.
The window cleaners had educated their administrative contacts well on the minimal water consumption of water fed poles. Government and water utility officials responded appropriately. They showed knowledge, reason, and restraint.
The more the facts of water fed pole operation become known among public and business officials, the more quickly that resistance to reasonable use will diminish in moderate drought conditions.
Support not unanimous
Stern critics of Government and company action thought that too much was made of the “water emergency.” They suspected that the companies were creating a crisis as an excuse to seek higher rates. Especially galling was the fact that companies reported high profits for the period.
Companies also came in for fierce criticism on the alleged wast and inefficiency of their operations. Some charges seemed worth investigating. Critics blasted companies for un-repaired leakage along pipe routes. According to their complaints, the daily water loss was heavy. Where was the concern for conservation that companies urged upon citizens while their own stock in trade dripped away?
Surely, critics said, companies could re-invest some of the profits to study and repair leaky pipes instead of withholding drinking water from sorely-tired citizens. People had to bear inconveniences and hardships because of companies’ lax practices.
There were also unsettling drought stories from other countries.
Drought in the U.S.
Somewhere in the U.S. there is ALWAYS a drought. U.S. states manage water shortages, and are used to it. Even local and special-purpose government districts have had practice. They may accommodate the positions of contending interests semi-automatically.
This year, however, there is general recognition that the country as a whole is suffering drastic water shortages.
There was no doubt that the country generally was coming very dry out of spring. In 2207 parts of Florida, Texas, Georgia, and Kansas. In 2007 authorities imposed regulations to control unnecessary water uses such as ponds and swimming pool refills. Of course they resorted to more serious restrictions as needed.
In Texas in 2007, even window cleaning with a water fed pole was restricted. No pressure washing either. Apparently there was no British-style tendency for accommodation, but the situation finally lightened up.
Whether all this drought confirmed global warming or was just a temporary local phenomenon is hard to prove, but there will be determined attempts to do so.
San Diego Restrictions
This year (2009) San Diego has imposed restrictions starting June 1. The City Council voted to crack down on excess water use in San Diego, declaring a “Level 2” drought alert and imposing mandatory outdoor water-use restrictions in what Mayor Jerry Sanders called a “new era” in local water use.
Limits on residents watering lawns and washing cars will go into effect June 1. Scofflaws will face a fine of $100 to $1,000.
Residents will be allowed to water their lawns and landscaping only between 6 p.m. and 10 a.m., three days a week from June through October for no more than 10 minutes at a time.
Homes with odd-numbered addresses will be permitted to water on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. Homes with even-numbered addresses can water on Saturday, Monday and Wednesday. Apartments, condos and businesses can water only on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Cars should only be washed at residences between 6 p.m. and 10 a.m., and a bucket and a hose with a shut-off nozzle must be used.
There will also be restrictions on ornamental fountains and construction site watering. Restaurants will only serve water on request and commercial car washes will be asked to reduce the amount of water they use.
The city plans to hire seven employees, on top of the three they already have, to help enforce the new water restrictions. Water Department officials said enforcement will largely be driven by citizen complaints.
Necessitating the mandatory restrictions is the recent decision by the San Diego County Water Authority to reduce water deliveries to its member agencies in the region by 8 percent.
“The cuts won’t be as deep as we had first thought, but it’s enough to require water use restrictions,” Sanders testified at the start of a more than two-hour hearing.
“None of us want to dictate how San Diego can use water,” he said. “Nonetheless, I strongly believe that we must launch a new era in the way we think about and use water in our communities.”
Fearing that wholesalers would slash the amount of water San Diego gets by as much as 20 percent, Sanders has warned for more than a year that mandatory rationing was imminent.
The more modest reduction in water deliveries allowed the city to temporarily back away from an earlier plan that would have allocated a set amount of water to residential customers based on historical use. That model, some argued, was unfair because it penalized those who already heeded the call to conserve and voluntarily cut back on their water use.
Alex Ruiz, assistant director of the Water Department, said Monday any violator will get a warning first before being issued a fine. The warning would be in the form of a notice hung on a door, he said.
San Diego’s Water Department has budgeted $200,000 to $300,000 over the next few months to notify residents about the changes through water bill inserts, billboards, print and broadcast advertisements, according to Ruiz.
Councilwoman Donna Frye, who spearheaded the new water use policies with Sanders, said the city needs to start planning now for the potential of future water delivery cuts to the region.
“To some extent we were sort of fortunate in that the cuts that we felt we were going to have to face did not come to fruition,” Frye said. “At least not right away.”
“So, we do have some time — rather than immediately adopt a water allocation methodology — we have a little bit of time to instead deal with a methodology that deals more with behavioral restrictions,” she said.
Several council members tossed around the idea of implementing a price-based model that provides a financial incentive to conserve as a way to further cut back on water use in the future.
Bruce Reznik, executive director of San Diego Coastkeeper, said the restrictions included in the “Level 2” drought declaration don’t go far enough to preserve local water supplies.
“This is not a drought, it’s a trend,” Reznik told the City Council.
“Our water supplies are shrinking and yet everything in this plan sort of treats it as a temporary inconvenience. We need to change our mindset and our perspective.”
California’s water supplies are threatened by years of drought. That, combined with recent restrictions on the amount of water that can be pumped from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to protect an endangered fish, means likely shortages.
According to Sanders, calls for voluntary water conservation measures over the past year have achieved only about 5 percent savings. The new mandatory restrictions will make up the difference.
The Mayor’s Office has scheduled community meetings in each of the eight City Council districts through May 27 to educate the public about the new water use restrictions.
Window Cleaner Contribution
The window cleaning industry has led the way for others in responding to water shortages. Its tech uses tiny amounts of water for what it accomplishes. The free market deserves some credit. Window cleaning progress has emerged mostly from manufacturers’ competition.
The industry worldwide deserves praise for development of technology and techniques that have made normal operations more possible in drought emergencies treatable such as the one we face now in San Diego.
Even if window cleaning companies will need to use well water, purify it and bring it with them to the site, business will continue. Elite window washing has several plans to use, but depending on the severity of the restrictions they range from mild to extreme. Rest assured that we are all looking for a solution to these problems, we are in this together. When there is a will there is a way.