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WATER in the East Bay

"Water Futures: A Deep Dive with Ernie Avila on the Capstone Conversation Podcast"

AI wrote this blog post based on a transcript from the podcast, which contains errors; for the best content, listen to the podcast.

In the latest episode of the Capstone Conversation podcast, hosted by Jared Asch, we had the opportunity to welcome Ernie Avila, Chair of the Contra Costa Water District. Avila, with his 40 years of experience in the water sector, brought a wealth of knowledge and insight to our discussion, focusing on the challenges and solutions in water management and sustainability in California.

Throughout the episode, Avila shared his extensive journey from his early days in public service to his significant role at the Contra Costa Water District. He emphasized the critical need to address the impacts of climate change on water supply and the importance of strategic infrastructure investments. These include the implementation of desalination technologies and the expansion of storage capabilities to adapt to climate variability.

The discussion with Avila also highlighted collaborative efforts between federal and state agencies to ensure water quality and the significance of streamlined permitting processes for new water facilities. He elaborated on the complexity of balancing environmental concerns with the demands of both agriculture and industry, providing a comprehensive view of the intricate nature of water resource management in California.

A key topic was the potential and importance of recycled water as a significant component of the state's water supply strategy. Avila underscored the role of community engagement and education in water conservation, highlighting innovative technologies like the Flume device for leak detection and various rebate programs that promote sustainable water use practices.

Avila also called for a more in-depth assessment of the implications of new water regulations and mandates, advocating for a better understanding of their long-term impacts on water supply and management systems.

This episode, guided by host Jared Asch, offered a deep dive into the world of water sustainability with Ernie Avila. It provided listeners with valuable insights into the future of water management in California, emphasizing the importance of collaboration, innovation, and conservation. This conversation is a must-listen for anyone interested in understanding and contributing to the development of water-resilient strategies in the face of evolving environmental challenges.


BELOW IS AN AI-GENERATED TRANSCRIPT OF THE PODCAST it has not been checked for errors.

Jared Asch: Hey, welcome to today's episode of the Capstone Conversation. I'm your host, Jared Ash. Today we are going to dive into water with Ernie Alvea. Ernie is the chair of the Contra Costa Water District and an expert in all things water across the state of California. So Ernie, can you tell us a little bit more about yourself and your background? 

Ernie Avila: Thanks, Jared. Yeah, I'd be happy to. I'm a licensed civil engineer in California with about 40 years of water experience. I have spent probably half of my [00:01:00] career in public service being a former general manager for a water utility. I have been the director of engineering at Contra Costa water district.

Also have a private civil engineering and environmental services consulting business with my wife. Been at it now for again. Our business has been around for about now 22 years. Incredibly enough as a small business. Very happy about that. Two great sons who have been learning a lot from mom and dad and they've been great in terms of their commitment to the environment and started.

I've been in the political world now working at at CCWD for about eight years now. It's on my eighth year and was a former planning commissioner for the city of Concord and on the design review board. And also worked as a transportation commissioner for the city of Walnut Creek way back when so love serving.

Jared Asch: I am currently the chair of the Walnut Creek Transportation Commission. How about look at that? You know, and I'm also chair of the CCTA Citizens Advisory [00:02:00] Committee. So we, we have similar backgrounds. 

Ernie Avila: How about that? That's great. That's who I am. Awesome. 

Jared Asch: Well, thanks for your service to our community and everything else.

And I like the background, both in public service and government, but also the background as a civil engineer and a staff at a water district, it really really lends to your expertise here. So tell us about the state of water in California. People's mind is. Constant drought. Where is the future going?

Big rain last year. Are we in for these swings with climate change? Give us just your take on an overview. 

Ernie Avila: So we've got a tremendous amount of challenges ahead of us. Probably the key issue that we all worry about and we think about is water supply reliability. And it's becoming pretty [00:03:00] important, especially of late because we're now starting to see the impact of climate change and climate variability.

Where before we had a more steady, any type of flow of water through the Delta, for example, for us, it contrasts to water and this impacts other people, so many different Californians that are impacted by the Delta. What's happening now is that before we had water that we could get water from the Delta for like 3, months.

Now what happens is our, our window for getting that water for our customers. Now is in about three month periods because it's very flashy instead of water flowing at good quality for a more regular basis. Now, when the water quality comes, it comes intensely, you know, for a shorter period of time. And so we've now had to adjust to environment where now we've got to capture that water as fast as we can when it becomes available.

You have those issues at the Contra Costa Water District level that are out there happening, [00:04:00] but then you also have the the demands. For so many different customers in California and Northern Southern California, when you've got so many people that are dependent on the Delta and Delta operations, there's a lot of demands that are placed on its operation that impacts so many different things.

So it's, it's one of the things that the Bureau of Reclamation has to deal with. It's one of the things that the state water project has to deal with whenever they start looking at planning for how they're going to provide water through the area. And that impacts all Californians because so much water goes between North and Southern California from that perspective.

So. There we've got some very serious issues associated with how climate change is impacting how water gets used and operated. And the result also is you've also got agriculture, right? You've got groundwater issues that are happening as well. So then you've got the demands of the Colorado River because the Colorado River impacts Southern California water customers.

They have less water getting off the Colorado. Meaning there's more demand or more requests to [00:05:00] try to get more water from Northern California. So there's an ongoing issue associated with water supply planning and dealing with those types of issues and finding the balance between managing water in an environmentally sound manner, providing reliable water supply for our customers, while at the same time keeping industry and agriculture taken care of.

So we have many challenges like those ahead of us. Probably the other thing that we have to really concentrate on is the fact that we've got to work on trying to streamline permitting for new water facilities. That's another big issue that's happening with desalination, right? It's taking 10, 15, 20 years to get new desal plants certified in California.

So those water quality regulations, those regulations associated with their implementation need to be looked at to see what can be done to try to enhance water supply reliability. And streamline regulations to get these facilities online sooner than later. 

Jared Asch: And is DeSAL coming from the ocean [00:06:00] or the bay or where are we looking at pulling DeSAL from in this area?

Also groundwater. 

Ernie Avila: So yeah, in our area. And it would be coming from the bay. So you'd have a little bit of brackish water. You have a new D style facility that was constructed in the city of Antioch, for example that is getting water from the delta in freshwater conditions and sometimes brackish water conditions.

It's a brand new facility. The Alameda County Water District has had a desal plant in operation for well over 10, 20 years now. It's actually the only operational desal plant that have been functioning for quite some time, and they've been very successful with it. It's one of the most, actually, cost efficient operations they have at Alameda County Water District.

But yeah, so it's groundwater that can be used. You've got some water that has got, especially around the, the bay. That is a little bit more brackish, they can use desal plants to get that salt out of that brackish water from groundwater directly from from the bay as well. And of course, from the ocean if need be.

Jared Asch: So in [00:07:00] the East Bay is most of our water coming currently from the Delta? 

Ernie Avila: Absolutely. Yeah. Matter of fact, 99. 9 percent of our demand comes from the Delta. If you look at the health of our water supply for Contra Costa water, the key facility you always need to keep an eye on at the state level. Federal level is Shasta.

We get absolutely most of our water from Shasta reservoir. So you have to, if Shasta is in good shape in terms of the reservoir levels, then we're in good shape. When you see them depleted. That's when we need to get a little bit more serious about how we manage our water operations. We do that anyway, but that, if you want a quick look at how the help of our water supply is, look at just the reservoir.

for example, I'll give you, I'll give you is if you look at the last route, we we had our reserv, that reservoir got down to 33% of capacity. That's pretty dramatic. But in one year we got that up, the, the Bureau of Reclamation was able to get that up to about [00:08:00] 80%. Within one season. That's how intense this last winter was, and how helpful it was to the overall health of water supply in California.

Jared Asch: So when we're looking at the future of supply and infrastructure. You're looking at a couple different things. One, you've got to catch the water more because it's coming faster and intense years, right? There was, there's a lot of argument that water was lost from the past storms, and you're saying it only got to 80%.

Could you have captured it 20%? And then do you need more storage on top of that? And how are we preparing for both of those things? 

Ernie Avila: So one of the great, yes, you need more infrastructure to make that happen and to use that. So one of the things that we've, we've seen, for example, Is we've, we determined way back when that enhanced storage would be a great requirement and great for our overall water supply reliability.

That's why 25 years ago, this community invested in the construction of the Los Sequeros Reservoir. [00:09:00] Before the reservoir was constructed, we had probably about about 10 to 15 days of emergency storage available to us with our existing reservoirs. But Los Ricaros provides us six plus months of emergency supply.

And so that storage element, that investment the community made over 25 years ago, has really been a fantastic investment. We expanded the reservoir again in 2012 to provide a greater level of reliability, so we'd be able to store even more water there. So overall, that investment we've made in the existing reservoir, if you were to try to build that today, is well over a billion dollar investment that the community made.

Funded 100 percent by rate payers. So that investment alone provided us tremendous amount of supply reliability for not only enhancing water quality, because we could draw the water out and store water that is of high quality for the Delta and put it away. But what it also did is that there were issues with the Delta.

Earthquake were to happen, or if there is a a [00:10:00] chemical spill of the Delta, for example, we could, we could survive off of Los Siqueiros for half a year, if not more. Using the emergency supply that water, the the Lister Carrolls provides. The other thing that we did too, Jared, is we, invested in additional intakes to the Delta.

If you look at the Delta, Delta's got fingers at which the water flows to so many different locations in the Delta. We invested in different intakes in the Delta to try to where we could test the water to see where the best water quality is and tap into that location of the Delta to provide the best water quality in the reservoir.

So that required a tremendous amount of level investment in that. The other thing we're looking at. Is we're dealing with a about an 80 year old canal system that's frankly was designed for more agricultural type operations when it was built by the Bureau of Reclamation, probably one of the biggest investment we're looking at right now is an 800 plus million dollar investment in the replacement of the canal into a pipe system that [00:11:00] will be minimize any infiltration of water.

It'll minimize leakage from the canal system when it breaks, Okay. And also provides greater seismic reliability. So that's probably one of the largest capital investments the district's done in over 25 years, will be the construction, rehabilitation, replacement of the Contra Costa Canal into a pipe system.

That's well underway, by the way, in terms of the first part of it. We did that specifically because the initial, the first five miles of the canal is highly influenced by the Delta. And so if there's high tides, what have you, there are times we have to worry about the berms, but we don't have to worry that much anymore because we've been replacing with pipeline system for the last few years.

So those kind of investments are what water supply reliability means it requires. 

Jared Asch: So that's helpful to understand in terms of. Right. What we're doing for that emergency supply in the reservoir, how we're piping, what are we doing to capture more rain because most of our water is coming from the sources prior to [00:12:00] that through the delta, right through the snowpack through Shasta down to us.

How is the water district working with the state and other regional agencies because you guys aren't the only ones that tap into the delta. 

Ernie Avila: Right. So we coordinate very closely with Bureau of Reclamation. So one of the things that obviously the State Water Resources Control Board, it makes a key role of making sure that whoever draws water from the Delta has the right to draw the water, right?

So we work very closely with the State Water Resources Control Board on existing water rights to make sure that if there are folks that are interested in tapping into the Delta, that it's done in a manner that doesn't impact our water quality. That's part of, we have a group that specializes and checks to see What all the new applications are for drawing water from the Delta to make sure that their operation isn't going to be detrimental to our operations and the water quality we currently draw from the Delta.

As part of the beauty of the California Environmental Quality Act is [00:13:00] they have to, whoever wants to do such a thing, take water from the Delta. Must comply with CEQA to make sure that they have clearly defined the potential impacts associated with drawing water from the Delta to other users as well.

And so one of the things that we do is we look at all those applications to make sure and we assess what the potential impact is to our operation, our operation using our own model of the Delta. And if we believe that we're being impacted, then we do protest and we're very engaging to make sure we protect water quality for our customers in that way.

So you look at it from so many different fronts, Jared, but that's one of the key elements that we do. We're always keeping an eye out for all applications for water being drawn from Delta for that reason. 

Jared Asch: One of the things in terms of climate change of concern is snowpack. First explain how California, how the snowpack impacts our water supply in the state for the listeners.

But then talk about like, there's a recent [00:14:00] headline I was reading that talked about, yes, we've had rain so far in the 23 24 water cycle, but we haven't had a ton of snow, which impacts that process. Talk about that if you can a little bit for everybody. So think about. 

Ernie Avila: One of the things that you think about when, when the winter comes, for example you could have a tremendous snow pack, but if there's been minimal moisture as part of the, the, the snow pack, what happens here is that the snow melts and then the water goes into the ground that's been dried.

If it, there's not a lot of moisture, rain in the wintertime. When the snow melts, the, the, the runoff itself goes into the ground itself, which is. Is thirsty for that water, right? So one of the things you look at during the winter operations isn't just your snowpack. You look to see whether there's been good moisture in the lead up to the building up of the snow pack.

So if there's good moisture in addition to that, then the ground in front of it where the water will run through is already moist. It says, Hey, I [00:15:00] don't need that water. I'll let the snow just water progress down to the delta or to these reservoirs because I the ground have plenty of water that I've gotten through the rain.

Mhm. And so when we look at winter operations, we look to see how dry has the has been the the ground around it and then now how big has been the snowpack overall. So those two key elements determine how much runoff we're going to get from the snowpack. So I bring that up, Jared, because a couple of years ago we had a decent snowpack, but not a lot of rain.

And the result is when there's not a lot of water in the ground, the snow goes down, the ground absorbs the water and runoff is minimized. We don't get a lot of water in those reservoirs. So that whole, that's how water flows. When you look at the water operations, you have to look at snowpack and good moisture levels in the ground that will be transporting that water down to the delta.

That's how it basically functions. 

Jared Asch: So when that system breaks down [00:16:00] because it's too hot and it doesn't form into snow, it forms into rain. Or I think a couple of years ago, I remember we had like an April where it was 90 plus degrees earlier than usual. And the snow they said melted, you know, it was the equivalent of like a million homes of water supply melted within a week.

And we couldn't capture that. Yeah. Talk about that. 

Ernie Avila: A little bit if you can. Yeah, so you had a situation where it, because there was The moisture. There was not a lot of water in the ground, right? When it melted, the ground absorbed that water, and that's what really happened more anything else. So the other thing that happens when the when the snow melts very quickly, right?

Remember, I talked Jared about the fact that now the good water passes over instead of like three or four months. It's in over one or two months. That's what happens, right? A high level of temperature on a snowpack means that it does very rapidly. Let's say their groundwater has the ground [00:17:00] has enough water that all of a sudden the snow melts at a higher rate.

You've got a great flush of water that goes to the Delta over a short period of time. So instead of it melting over a few months, a couple of months, three months, four months, it's now over one or two months. That means that it's, you've only got a one or two month window to capture that water. And if you don't have enough pumps in the Delta to draw the water out, You're not able to take that water out because you just don't have the capacity for it to draw the water out.

The water just passes through. And then, when we normally would have another two months to get that water, it's not there. Because now the water quality has gone, has gotten, has degraded. Because our flush of water, the snow, has melted quickly enough. And now the flush of water that we banked on happened so quickly, that now during that three or four month period, the last month or two, is water quality that's too salty.

And we don't want to put salty water in our delta. Into our reservoirs. We we always are very careful monitoring the water conditions before we put water in the reservoir. I'll take this is the reason why Jared it [00:18:00] takes months and months and months to change the water quality once you have it stored.

So when you want to put water in a storage reservoir, you want the highest quality of water because it won't won't turn over. Right. You don't need to change the salinity levels in a reservoir takes months and months of operations to change that how that water is. So you want to get sweet water. You want to get water.

That is the highest quality in your reservoir and water. That's salty. You don't want that in there because it'll, it'll provide salty water in your reservoir, which you don't want to do. 

Jared Asch: So do the agencies. That poll water from the Delta have enough pumps, or is that the end storage capacity to get that rush in the future?

Ernie Avila: Well, we're always making that kind of investment. Right now, for us, we're fine. Contra Costa Water District has enough pump because of our intakes. We have four of them. In the Delta, we have the ability to draw water when we need it. There are problems with other agencies or [00:19:00] other entities that may have that issue.

We don't have that issue ourselves. Probably the one thing I would tell you is really critically important for us, by the way, Jared, is that we also have screened intakes. Every one of our intakes is screened for fish. Make sure we protect the fish. Whenever we're in operation. So remember that the biggest issue, right?

You have is the state water project, for example, is unscreened in terms of water that's being drawn. So that's a completely different animal much greater operation than our operation. We're 5%, 6 percent of what they draw from the Delta overall, but that's, that's the key thing for us. We have screened.

We have a lot of intakes. We've made investments in these intakes. So when the water is there, we're able to draw from it. Okay. And so but we're always monitoring to make sure we have the right investment for that. We have a future water supply study that's going to be starting here relatively soon in the next year or so.

That kind of provides us an opportunity to look 5, 10, 15 years in advance to say, what could be the water supply conditions in the delta. [00:20:00] And so what we do is we'll use the study outcome to make a determination as to we need to make additional investments in our pumping capacity, conveyance capacity, and even storage for the, for the project for, for Contra Costa water.

We'll also look at the sources of water too, Jerry. So we it's like looking at the possibility where we can draw water or where we can buy water to make sure that we always have a high level reliability for our customers. You see, Jared, for us, the key thing to remember is We are a 24 7 operation. When you go and turn the tap to your, you know, when you get some water, you want to turn the tap, you want water to flow.

That's a lot of responsibility that comes with our ability to always be able to deliver that water to our customers. It's got to be of the highest quality. We've got to make sure that the treatment of the water is of the highest quality as well, that it's fully complying with state and federal regulations.

We've got to make sure the infrastructure, the pipelines, the pump stations, the reservoirs are in full operation, have enough storage, enough [00:21:00] capacity to provide that water at the pressure that it needs to be. All of those issues are attributable to make sure that we're always there for our customers, 24 7.

You turn on the water. It's reliable. We bank on it. And with that comes a lot of responsibility, these types of investments that we have to do and studies. 

Jared Asch: So I want to, that's helpful to understand. I want to pivot a little bit to talk about agriculture. A lot of the arguments about water in California is there's actually enough of it for the people, but we feed the rest of America and we feed the rest of the world.

I was talking to somebody that said, you know, we send so many almonds from California to China that that's one of our biggest water supply problems. I don't know if that's true or not. Talk to me about agriculture and finding that balance of water use from your perspective. 

Ernie Avila: So obviously, you, when you look at it as the agriculture is a key in [00:22:00] industry in California and, and the world, right?

We've got to feed a lot of people. I look at, I've heard the discussion about almonds and my position is you have to kind of look at the, the big picture. You're right. We also look at look at all the fruits and vegetables that we draw into California as well. When you go to the supermarket, you're having fruits from Chile.

You've got fruits from Ecuador, right, that are coming into California as well. So if you look at the breadbasket of the world, right, we all kind of work together to try to make sure we provide enough food supply for our people. You think about it, Jared, there are only five major regions In the world that is a bread basket to the entire population of the world.

So California is one of those, and I don't know if you knew that. So on average, I believe there's about the in California are rivers and streams, the delta, et cetera, try to provide over 200 million acre feet a year and water. There's an [00:23:00] average on our average year. I think we take municipalities and cities take 5 percent of that.

On average of that water supply, agriculture provides probably about in the order of about 20 to 25 percent of that water. The rest goes to the environment, right? And say, it's water that flows through the Delta flows to the streams and continues on. So, you have to kind of look at the big picture and realize that there's when you look at water consumption in California.

Yes, ag is a big user. Yes, municipalities are a big user. But so are making sure that we meet enough from our environmental requirements and we take care of the environment as well. So finding the balance, right? Dealing with all that, you have to kind of look at the big picture of the bread basket of the world and say, yes, the California water is used for almonds that are sold to China.

But we also have the opportunity to import water that's being used to generate prudent that we consume here in California as well. But I didn't know if you realized how much, what the percentages were for [00:24:00] municipalities. For ag and for the environment. It's pretty incredible. 

Jared Asch: Yeah. Well, I think that's why I was asking the question I do know we california produces a lot of food for the rest of the country in the world Something like 90 of strawberries and watermelons and and lettuce and other things Come from here and so the water supply is doing that and it creates billions and Tens of hundreds of billions of dollars for our economy here in california.

It is something that makes us a global powerhouse let's talk about recycled water and where is the future of recycled water going in the East Bay? How can that help us reduce and conserve? 

Ernie Avila: So Jerry, it's a great question. It's one of the things that most people don't realize is that recycled water is a critical element of our water supply system.

You know, when I talk about when we look at future water supply needs for Contra Costa water, 10 percent of our water supply is recycled water. And most people don't [00:25:00] realize that when we look at what our anticipated demand will be met by recycled water, it'll probably 15, 18 percent of our water supply will be recycled water overall.

If you look at if you look at the Concord Naval Weapons Station, for example, that's going to have a tremendous market for the recycled water. There's a dual piping, dual pipe system that's anticipated to be constructed for recycled water and domestic water. For that's by 15, 014 to 15, 000 home development in Concord.

So recycled water is a critical element that we, we anticipate and we work with Central San and others to enhance the use of recycled water. What's going to be interesting here, what most people don't realize. There's a real challenge ahead for recycled water, and the challenge is that the state of California has passed a law on enhancing even more water conservation by existing customers, rate payers of Contra Costa Water District.

They want to [00:26:00] reduce water consumption an additional 5 10 percent on a daily basis. What that means, by the way, is higher level of water conservation, even greater than what we've done here today. Means that there's less water that goes to central sand and others that could be used recycled water. So it's interesting.

It's a real like, you know, nervous tension between the need to conserve more water and enhancing more water conservation, but that also means there's less water that can be recycled overall. So we have some real challenges ahead in terms of finding the balance between those 2 demands, but we integrate recycled water in Ottawa water supply planning now.

It's just what we think about all the time. We've got great relationships with the sanitation agencies that we work with, and we anticipate that, and we incorporate that planning in the future water supply study work that we do at Contra Costa Water. 

Jared Asch: And so talk to us about conservation. How are, how is the district working to reduce [00:27:00] leaks in old pipes leaks in the process?

across. How are you guys then we'll dive into home after that. Yeah. So prob 

Ernie Avila: we're making is the canal we probably lose about 7% Through leaks along the canal system. So that's one of the things big largest investment that we're making in overall to try to conserve water and conserve water wherever we can when we do repairs in the canal every year is specifically to minimize leak.

It's from our existing infrastructure. The other thing that we're doing is we routinely we have Main replacement program where we have millions of dollars that are invested in the replacement of older pipes that have may have breaks or had a high order number of breaks. And we're replacing our infrastructure to make sure that we're prepared for the future.

So we replace an average of anywhere from 2 to 5 miles of pipe in a given year every year. Now, when you talk about 740, 740 miles of [00:28:00] pipeline, That's not an insignificant investment that needs to be made. So that's what we do. We monitor our system to make sure that we're not leaking where we do have some significant leaks of any kind.

We've replaced those. We prioritize those main replacements that, that take care of those issues. We make sure also that we, we support, um, we're looking at the canal repairs overall so we have a pretty good monitoring system to kind of make sure that we're being very judicial, judicious in the use of our water and we're taking care of any leaks that occur along the system.

We have good SCADA programs that provide us good state of the art information where we have anticipated leaks that could be occurring. So that's what we do. 

Jared Asch: And what kind of technology do you deploy to detect those leaks and to increase efficiency on pumps and everything? 

Ernie Avila: So what we do is we, well, what we do is we have, we monitor the flow conditions for pipes with our SCADA system and our Our meter system as well.

We see the aberration [00:29:00] in flows in different areas. The computer is able to calculate excessive flow conditions that are out of norm and provide that information and alerts for our controllers. So that's how we're able to use that kind of information in the True to Water Service area to try to keep an eye on that.

We've got, we also have a canal patrol system that looks at canal and our operations and maintenance staff that are routinely monitoring the conditions of our 50 miles of canal system to see where we've got excess water conditions that could be impacting the area or the vicinity. And frankly, we have got great customers that tell us when we have a potential issue, they let us know as well.

So we have eyes and ears everywhere to keep an eye on those types of systems. So that's what we do to try to maintain the integrity of our water system. And I know you're going to ask me about what we can do for homeowners and industry, but one of the things that we do, Jared, is we for homeowners. We offer free free work.

We've worked with our customers to provide advice on how they can conserve more [00:30:00] water. We have folks that are customer service representatives that go out to our ratepayers for free and help look at their water use, water consumption. We have tremendous amount of rebate program for washing machines and for any variety of different appliances, water smart appliances, rebates to try to help folks come up with more efficient water appliances that they could be using for commercial industrial and for repairs homeowners.

One of the things too, Jared, that we do is, one of the things that I love that we provide is we strongly, we discount the use of a flume system. Flume is a little device that can be installed in 15 minutes at anybody's home that will alert you when there's potential leak at your home. 

What it does is there's been quite a bit of research that's been taken that's been conducted, and the device, this device that has taken the technology of how much water is traditionally used in a home can be installed using a small, just rubber band connecting to your existing [00:31:00] meter, pop the cover up, clean it up you buy it, install it, and Flume will link up with the account, the Contra Costa Water District, and in 15 minutes, we'll tell you if there's a leak that's happening in your home.

It's really absolutely amazing. It just tracks it, looks at the flow conditions and it tells you right away. I didn't know I had leaked in one of my irrigation systems. I put that, that flume device in my home and in 20 minutes it told me you have a leak that's detected in your home. This seems to be happening.

In this particular area. And so I use that information. And sure enough, I found not one but two leaks that were happening in the irrigation system. If you've got a running toilet, it even determines you've got a running toilet in your home. If you're away, it's really absolutely amazing. The technology and the information is provided.

On an app, the app tells you and gives you that that alert. So there's some great technology that's out there now to help the homeowner be more efficient in how they maintain their existing appliances and watch out for leaks. One of the things that [00:32:00] we've also done, Jared, is we have a home surf program so that if folks do have a leak we offer a program for homeowners at a slightly additional cost.

That will help homeowners do repairs in their home if they find that there is a leak that requires a plumber to come in and repair their piping system. So we've implemented that program as well to help our homeowners as well be ready for those types of leaks that could be happening in their home.

Jared Asch: That's great. I got to get myself one of those devices. It seems easy enough. Probably hard to me to install. I'm not very handy, but we'll make sure we link in the show notes to how people can get that information on that product and on those rebates at the Contra Costa water district, as well as some other water districts in the area.

One thing along those lines are we're talking about how I can help at my home. But the supermarket shopping center down the street has ornamental grass. The gas station on the corner [00:33:00] of Ignacio and Oak Grove in Walnut Creek, where I live, has ornamental grass at a gas station. And they're watering half of Ignacio and half of Oak Grove every time they water it.

Yet I can't run my sprinklers in a drought. How do we transform those places? As individuals as people in the neighborhood. How does the water districts work with them to make those long term changes? 

Ernie Avila: So Jared, we look at rebate programs to help them convert their lawn to a drought tolerant pipe planting system, right?

Well, that's one of the things that we do fundamentally within the state of California. The these uses for grass for these different regions, these different types of uses. It's probably going away. It's going to get probably hard, very hard to try to get these types of landscaping that's not being used, like in backyards, for example.

Is probably going to go away overall. But [00:34:00] what we have existing uses, the best thing to do is is to our rebate programs that we offer are phenomenal to help folks try to convert their existing green, non usable kind of lawns into something that's more at least drought resistant, drought tolerable, tolerable overall.

So we can work with them on that. The community is great, by the way, kind of encouraging commercial businesses to do that. Plus, think about it, in the grand scheme of things, they've got to pay a water bill, right? Water costs are going up, right? The more water you're using, the more expenses that you have, it takes away from their profitability as well, overall.

It's in their best interest to look at this kind of investment, especially if the water district is helping to defray the cost of this kind of investment for them. Plus, the community encourages it, and they really appreciate it when you have folks that do that kind of conversion as well. So you know, when you go to the next time to go fill up your gas, make that recommendation suggestion to the owner just make that comment that, you know, it'll, it'll make a difference.

I [00:35:00] say that because, Jared, the one thing that this community, Contra Costa Water District has done is tremendous. They were very responsive. We probably have one of the best response rates to droughts. Far none in California. When, when the state asked for 15 percent reduction, we got pretty darn close to 15 percent reduction.

If you look at the overall water consumption of where we were 20 plus years ago, we're using almost 20 percent less water than we were then. Population has grown, not gone down. So whenever we have asked our community to respond to a drought because of a state emergency, Or localized drought or even a moderate drought.

This community response. They're very highly educated. They've got we work very hard to educate and get the word out to all of our customers about the importance of conserving water in this community does a tremendous job. And part of the thing we do about that, by the way, is we, we work very hard to be prepared for these droughts and this [00:36:00] public education outreach to our customers, very effective.

This is a great community that responds very well to the water conservation when it's out there, especially during droughts, Jared. 

Jared Asch: That's great to hear. One final question comes to mind. Any legislation that you're aware of? I know you're not a Sacramento lobbyist, you're a water engineer, you work locally, but any, any big picture items in Sacramento that we should all be aware of locally?

Ernie Avila: Well, the, the water consumption, the per capita, what I mentioned about water conservation. Being a way of life of the reduction in in water consumption requirements for all customers in California. All of them is going to have tremendous impact on on water agencies. I say that because what most people don't realize is 95 to 96 percent of the the cost of providing water is fixed cost Jared.

So 95, 96 cents of every dollar we get [00:37:00] is there to pay for pump stations, pipelines. Reservoirs only the only the volume of water three percent five percent only that drives electricity chemicals, etc right, so you have 95 so whether I deliver one gallon or we deliver a million gallons in a day or 15 50 million gallons in a day I still have to make sure that the pipelines can deliver that one gallon or one million gallons of water.

I got to make sure the pump stations are there, the reservoirs are there, the chemicals that I need are there, the laboratory to check on the water is there, the canal system is reliable and is there. So overall, when you've got fixed costs that are there and you've got a demand reduction in, you've got to now conserve more water.

I still have to generate enough revenue. We still need to generate enough revenue to make sure we can maintain those facilities So we're going to conserve more water But what that means is i'm going to have less water That means i've got to we've got to deal with the fiscal impact associated with that less revenue coming in But my [00:38:00] costs are fixed.

We've got to deal with the rate issues are real big issue about water conservation and water rates They're directly related to each other and when you think about Folks that are in fixed income, right? This has a direct impact on a lot of folks, not everybody, but it has an impact in particular to those low income folks that are fixed income rate payers that have to deal with higher rates associated because we've got to maintain the existing water system, and now we've got to conserve even more water.

We already do a tremendous job already. Matter of fact, if you think about it, Jared, The reason why we've been able to provide water for the growth in our population is because of water conservation savings by existing customers. That's what most people don't realize. How is it that we can allow more growth to occur when there's a major drought happening?

It's because, as I mentioned Jared, our community is responsive. They've conserved water tremendously. They're reducing, substantially reduced the water consumption than they did 20 plus years [00:39:00] ago. That's allowed that water to be used for growth. Well, if you're not considering even more water, I've still got to be able to pay for the infrastructure to provide that.

So finding the balance in regulations that are being passed in Sacramento in that regard is is a big deal. So those are some of the big challenges happening in Sacramento that we're struggling with trying to figure out the balance between those 2 items. So keep an ear out for that. That's great, right?

Jared Asch: It just talks about where the future of water and what's on on every water agency executives mind, right, is how we move forward in the changing world that we live in. Anything else you want to add that I might not have asked or we might not have addressed yet? 

Ernie Avila: You know, I think, Jared, I think probably the one thing that I really, when you talk about Sacramento and even the federal government, frankly.

One of the biggest challenges we have is is is unfunded mandates, right? So we have a tremendous amount of regulations, [00:40:00] rules, compliance issues that are associated with providing water. In many cases, regulations are passed 99 percent of the time regulations that are passed. There's no funding associated with it.

We just simply have to comply with them. And so there are many good regulations associated with it and, and many good reasons for these, these items being put in place. But what most, most folks don't realize those unfunded mandates translates into rates. It's one of the things that we always have to be cognizant of.

I think if I had my dream world, right, we'd make a big effort whenever we have a new project. We have the California Environmental Quality Act that looks at trying to make sure that we have a clear understanding of the impact of this project, what it could have on the environment, the community, water supply.

electricity, transportation, you name it. I wish we could do more of that with new regulations or rules that are being proposed in Sacramento. If there was a better understanding of how what the long term implications are passing this rule, I think we [00:41:00] as rate payers and our constituents would truly benefit.

By having a better assessment of these rules and regulations before they're passed But I live in a dream world jared I hope that'd be one of the one of the things i'd love to see sacramento and in washington dc implement one of these days

Jared Asch: I thought when you said a dream world, you were going to say 3 days of rain in July and 3 days in October and, 

Ernie Avila: you know, make a big difference to the supply.

Yeah, I'd say the 1 thing that I wanted to say overall we do we're big. We work very hard with our community. Jared. We were in classrooms. We work with our kids. Right, we spend a lot of time with working with our customers on conserving water. We work hard, our workforce development, working with implementing DEI programs as well in our organization.

You know, we're part of the community. That's how we look at ourselves. And from my perspective, that's always going to continue. It's one of the things that I truly enjoy. About being part of this organization is it impacts so many [00:42:00] people in so many different ways, and it's important to be reliable and being an operation to be ready for the future is paramount importance to me.

Thank you for being here from the Contra Costa Water District. Thank you. 

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