In April, during the first full month of the lockdown, water demand on the Monterey Peninsula dropped by 15 percent compared to the same month a year ago, according to data provided to the Weekly by local water regulators.
Many factors, including weather fluctuations, determine how much water people use in their homes, gardens and businesses, but the main reason for the drop of 117 acre-feet of water is likely the shelter-in-place order, says Dave Stoldt, general manager of the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District.
“Rainfall was up by approximately an inch in April this year versus last, so irrigation demand would be lower,” Stoldt writes by email. “Hence, the reduction in demand is a combination of shelter-in-place and rain, but the shelter-in-place is likely more of the cause.”
Stoldt is working on gathering more granular data to compare residential and commercial demand: “People have more time on their hands so residential use could be offsetting the loss of commercial,” he says.
Water use can add to other metrics, like the unemployment rate and the air quality index, by which to measure the impacts of the pandemic on our daily lives. But on the Monterey Peninsula, water demand levels are always closely watched because of an acrimonious political battle over a proposed desalination plant near Marina.
Proponents of the desal plant say desalination is critical for development and economic growth. Opponents counter that the plant is too expensive and that it would provide far more water than necessary, at least for a few decades.
Unsurprisingly, the pandemic and its impact on the water demand and the economy has not softened the stance of either side. California American Water spokesperson Catherine Stedman says desalination is needed “to support economic recovery.”
A leading foe of the water utility, Melodie Chrislock of Public Water Now, says desal would “saddle ratepayers” at a time people are struggling to pay rent and buy food.