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San Diego Mayor Among Top Water Users in City : Drought: Discovery of second meter shows Maureen O'Connor averaged 3,248 gallons a day in 1990.

March 17, 1991|LEONARD BERNSTEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN DIEGO — Mayor Maureen O'Connor and her husband, Robert O. Peterson, consumed more than twice as much water at their Point Loma home last year than city water officials and the mayor have previously acknowledged.

The mayor's 1990 average daily water use--3,248 gallons--was so high that it would place her and her husband among the top 100 residential water users in the city.

In the past, the mayor and the city have released figures suggesting that O'Connor, a strong foe of mandatory water rationing, has used only modest amounts of water at the couple's two-acre, wooded home site.

It turns out that officials have been making public the figures from only one of two water meters servicing the property. The second meter is listed in city records at a separate address.

The second meter services the couple's prized fishpond, swimming pool--unused since the water crisis began, O'Connor asserted--and expanses of mature trees. The second meter also accounts for more water use than the first, according to figures O'Connor supplied.

"Just remember, I have two houses here," O'Connor said in an interview. "It's just that the fish and the trees live at one."

During the drought, the mayor has argued that a mandatory reduction in water usage will hurt the local economy and pit city residents against each other. O'Connor has pressed for a voluntary conservation program that she hopes will show a 30% savings during March.

Her insistence on that approach to the water crisis has irritated other leaders in Southern California and around the state, where mandatory cutbacks are largely the rule. Mike Gage, president of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power commissioners, has noted that San Diego, which is 95% dependent on imported water, consumes more than its allotted share of Metropolitan Water District water.

San Diego Councilman Bob Filner said the revelation about two water meters could undermine her credibility because it might look like O'Connor opposed mandatory water restrictions because of her large personal water use. "It could be attributed that way," Filner said.

O'Connor's spokesman said that the mayor's efforts at conserving water at her home should enhance her credibility in the mandatory vs. voluntary debate.

"I think, if anything, it will increase her credibility because she has put her consumption where her mouth is," said Paul Downey. "If everybody was as conscientious as she has been, we'd have no problems."

O'Connor released the corrected water use figures after The Times inquired about the second meter operating on her home site.

O'Connor's water consumption, has appeared lower than it actually is because the city Water Utilities Department has counted only consumption from the water meter at the mayor's listed address in Point Loma.

During 1990, O'Connor's residence consumed an average of 1,467 gallons on the section that contains her home and 1,781 gallons on the area that is primarily landscaped, according to the mayor's statistics. That level is more than nine times the 349 gallons consumed daily by the average single-family home in San Diego.

However, that rate was down 12.8% from the 3,725 gallons per day that O'Connor averaged in 1989.

For the period from Feb. 13 to March 14 this year, O'Connor and Peterson have registered an even more substantial savings of 51.5% over the same period in 1990, according to figures Downey said were read off the meters. The cutback was achieved by an overhaul of the couple's irrigation system and, when rains came later in the month, by turning off the sprinkler system, Downey and the mayor said.

In both comparisons, O'Connor exceeded the voluntary savings goals she set for San Diego--10% in 1990 and 30% for this month, Downey said. "She's exceeded the goal she's given to everybody else, both last year and this year," he said.

A list of the city's top 100 residential water users, released by the city last month at the request of The Times, included some of the wealthiest and most prominent residents in San Diego. The largest water user was Helen Copley, owner of Copley Newspapers, publisher of the San Diego Union and Tribune.

That list showed that the biggest water users consumed a daily average of between 3,171 and 10,203 gallons, and sparked considerable controversy at a time when many residents are skeptical about the equity of water conservation programs.

The list covered a one-year period ending Jan. 31. The Times calculated O'Connor's 1990 consumption statistics based on the billing period from Dec. 13, 1989, to Dec. 13, 1990. At 3,248 gallons of water consumed each day, O'Connor and Peterson would qualify for 93rd on the list.

The mayor's water consumption statistics have been released at least twice since June, but the presence of a second meter and the previously unacknowledged water use came to light after The Times requested information from the Water Utilities Department on March 7 about possible multiple meters at the mayor's home.

When statistics again showed O'Connor operating her 4,665-square-foot home and 73,616-square-foot landscaped lot on just 1,282 gallons of water daily--3.6 times the average--during the most recent billing period, The Times questioned the mayor and filed another request Thursday for information from the department.

That request has not yet been fulfilled, but Friday, O'Connor provided the corrected statistics, including the second meter, from her personal records.

"I don't think she knew there was a (second meter) until she went and looked," said Downey, the mayor's spokesman.

"We get two bills, but we pay with one check," O'Connor said.

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