Flushing it out: New toilets installed in Housing Authority homes use less water.

Under fire, SFPUC points to water conservation effort

Although San Francisco’s water utility has come under fire this election season for not doing more conservation, the agency is pointing to some successes in updating the faucets, shower heads and toilets for one of its biggest users.
San Francisco Public Utilities Commission General Manager Harlan Kelly said Wednesday that work is complete on a $225,000 program to update San Francisco Housing Authority units, including 4,100 new shower heads and 5,400 toilets. The fixes, which began in 2011, are designed to save an annual 110 million gallons of water and $2 million in utility bill costs for the Housing Authority, which is estimated to use 20 percent of the total water consumed by municipal agencies and nearly 2 percent of all water citywide.
The toilets installed are simply newer models that use 1.3 gallons per flush, compared to 3.5 gallons for the older version. In total, the Housing Authority is set to reduce its 2010 water consumption of 391 million gallons by more than one-quarter.
“We went to one of our high users and we worked collaboratively with them,” Kelly said.
But backers of a ballot measure that would clear the way for studying a major overhaul of The City’s water supply say the SFPUC’s progress is just a drop in the bucket. The Proposition F campaign is aimed at finding out how to dismantle the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir — San Francisco’s primary source of drinking water — in Yosemite National Park. Its campaign focuses on The City’s water recycling record as a blemish on its much-touted green credentials, which opponents call a deceptive tactic, given that the crux of the study would involve dumping critical infrastructure.
“I think that’s good stuff,” Mike Marshall, the head of the Restore Hetch Hetchy campaign, said of the Housing Authority conservation effort. “But what they’re not doing is trying to get people to change their behavior. What they’re doing is saving a day and a half of the water supply — which is great.”
Marshall echoed complaints he made last week that The City is violating the spirit of well-understood laws against using taxpayer resources to advocate against ballot issues.
But SFPUC spokesman Tyrone Jue said the utility has had conservation efforts in place for decades, and that the average San Franciscan uses only 80 gallons of water per person, per day — while the average California resident uses twice that amount.
Kelly said the goal in San Francisco is to do more recycling, but lowering total usage is even more important.
“They talk about recycling,” Kelly said. “We’re in the business of having people not use it in the first place.”
dschreiber@sfexaminer.com

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