California Drought Makes PG&E’s Water Conservation Showcase More Vital than Ever

By David Kligman

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Joe Paternoster explains his Santa Rosa company’s product called DriWater, tubes of water in jelly-like form used to water household plants. It’s made with the same ingredient used to thicken peanut butter. (Photo by James Green.)

SAN FRANCISCO — Every year for more than a decade, PG&E has hosted a daylong conference to encourage developers, architects and other building professionals to become more energy efficient by conserving water.

The Water Conservation Showcase — co-organized by the Northern California chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council and the East Bay Municipal Utility District — has become an increasingly popular draw over the years at PG&E’s Pacific Energy Center. And this year’s event on March 25 may have been the most important one yet due to one big issue facing California.

The drought.

The lack of rain and its impacts was discussed by speakers, attendees and vendors selling products that address the concern head-on. PG&E, water agencies and county officials participated in panel discussions focusing on water energy efficiency programs, schools, large institutions and landscaping.

Brian Fagan, a retired anthropology scholar, talked about the history of water, climate change and major drought cycles. His takeaway?

“We have no means of projecting how long the drought will last,” he said. “What we’re in is a warming world. And if this world warms we’re going to see higher incidences of extreme weather events. And in California, the chances are we’re going to see more drought cycles.

“Are we in a drought cycle now? This is the second of two drought years. The answer is nobody knows. But we’re foolish if we don’t plan that this is a drought cycle.”

PG&E can help customers save

For a utility like PG&E, the opportunity is to remind customers about its many resources to save energy, including its on-bill financing program for those who invest in energy-efficient water pumps.

The center also offers a free service lending tools to homeowners and commercial developers so they can gauge temperature and water pressure of pipes carrying hot water.

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For PG&E, the annual Water Conservation Showcase is an opportunity is to remind customers about its many resources to help save energy. (Currents Archive Photo.)

While the drought may seem like an overwhelming problem, PG&E’s Kari Binley said the utility wants customers to know that small, collective actions can lead to big changes.

“We can make it easy for them to save water and energy without having to change their lifestyles significantly or cost them a lot of money,” said Binley, who works with large retailers to promote energy efficiency.

Some of those solutions, like PG&E’s tool lending, have been around for some time. Other ideas are just taking shape and were on display by entrepreneurs like Chris Kirn, the co-owner of AquaPedal. The Redwood City-based company has developed a device that turns on water at your bathroom or kitchen sink by stepping on a pedal.

Kirn said the do-it-yourself device — similar to a foot-operated trashcan — will retail for less than $100 and reduce faucet water usage by 80 percent.

“You use just the amount of water you really need,” Kirn said. “People don’t realize that they’re wasting so much water when they’re doing simple things at the sink just like rinsing dishes. People leave the water on when they’re brushing their teeth.”

One of the attendees was handyman Alex Samoya, who said saving water is one of his biggest concerns.

“I want my grandchildren to become grandfathers and grandmothers,” he said. “For that to happen, we all to have jump in to be a part of the solution.”

Email David Kligman at David.Kligman@pge.com.

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