Some Salem households use millions of gallons of water – in a year
By Tracy Loew
November 14, 2015
It takes 6 1/2 years for the average American family to use 660,000 gallons of water – the amount contained in an Olympic-sized swimming pool.
In a single year, 16 Salem households used more than that – some much more.
Five Salem residents guzzled more than a million gallons last year, a Statesman Journal analysis of city utility billing data found.
Two of those consumed around 7 million gallons. That’s four times as much as Portland’s thirstiest resident, and enough to supply 70 average households.
At the same time, as the West enters its fifth year of drought, much of Oregon is running low on water.
The state’s snowpack last year was the lowest on record, and it began to melt earlier than ever, draining the natural reservoirs that serve much of the state.
In July, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife curtailed fishing hours on most rivers to help fish dying from low stream flows and high temperatures.
Wildfire season began three weeks early, and by mid-August, for the first time ever, campfires were banned in all state parks and on beaches along the entire coast. The bill for firefighting was the second-highest in state history, behind that for 2013.
By mid-September, water levels at Detroit Reservoir and Green Peter Reservoir fell below minimum winter elevations, leaving the low-water ramps out of the water and affecting recreation.
In late September, Gov. Kate Brown declared a drought emergency in Marion County – the 25th Oregon county to qualify for help. And she ordered all state agencies to draft plans for saving water.
Many cities across the state, including Silverton, Molalla, Lake Oswego and Bend, asked residents to curtail water use.
But there’s little incentive for Salem or its residents to conserve.
“Salem has a huge water supply. Salem has a couple of centuries’ worth of water at current use and development rates,” said John DeVoe, executive director of WaterWatch of Oregon. “There are other cities in Oregon that aren’t in that position. They are being much more careful with their water supplies.”
Salem has the earliest and best water rights on the North Santiam River. The city’s drinking water comes from both surface water and groundwater. The city also has junior water rights on the Willamette River but will have to build a new treatment plant to use them.
The water itself, of course, is free. The city and its customers pay only for the infrastructure to treat and deliver it.
That may be one reason for Salem’s relatively high “leak rate.”
The city estimates that 23 percent of the water it treats, or 1.2 billion gallons per year, is lost to system leaks – in pipes, joints, valves or service connections – before it even reaches a meter.
The state frowns on anything more than 15 percent, and if attaining that rate is feasible, cities are directed to take steps to get to a 10 percent leak rate.
“So 23 percent means that the city still has some work to do,” DeVoe said.
Salem conducts leak detection surveys on 10 percent of its system each year, said Lacey Goeres-Priest, water quality and treatment supervisor.
However, it’s impossible to set a timeline for meeting that 15 percent goal, she said.
“It’s going to depend. How often are they finding a leak, how significant is it that they’re finding, and so on,” she said.
Salem also failed to meet many of its own five-year water conservation benchmarks, laid out in its 2009 state-required Water Management and Conservation Plan.
Oregon requires the plan and the conservation goals to make sure municipal water providers are doing everything they can to conserve water before it allows them to access more – including water to which the provider currently holds rights but has not yet developed.
Salem requested, and last November was granted, authority to divert an additional 30 cubic feet per second under one of its existing groundwater permits.
In an update to its plan submitted to the state the same month, the city said that because of budget and staffing issues, it had not met its goals of:
Offering irrigation audits to residential, commercial and industrial customers.
Developing a demonstration garden in a city park.
Developing an evapotranspiration educational training program.
Providing financial rebates for water efficient landscaping tools.
Developing conservation materials for businesses.
Developing partnerships with conservation-based stakeholders.
Advertising its water conservation program.
Updating its portable outreach display.
Sponsoring or hosting landscaping workshops.
Offering cost-share programs to commercial and industrial customers.
Distributing residential leak detection surveys.
For the same reasons, the city discontinued its water conservation calendar and bus ad artwork contests and stopped providing garden hose nozzles at outreach events.
Also because of budget issues, the city does not have any staffers dedicated to conservation.
Perhaps most significantly, the city dropped its goal of considering rate structures that promote water conservation – and bring in additional revenue.
Other cities in Oregon and elsewhere encourage conservation by raising rates in summer or by implementing tiered pricing – meaning the rate per unit (a unit is 748 gallons) increases as more units are used.
For example, in Ashland, the first three units per month used by a residence are $2.43 each – a little less than Salem’s flat rate of $2.58 per unit. The next seven units in Ashland cost $2.99 each. Units 11 to 25 are $4 each, and anything over 25 is $5.17 per unit.
In Salem, 2,764 households averaged more than 25 units per month last year (224,000 gallons per year.)
City officials were unable to say whether funding and staffing for the uncompleted water conservation activities were in place when the goals were submitted to the state in 2009, or whether it was something they were planning to add. They also could not say who made the decision not to fund the activities or not to review rate structures that promote conservation.
But in general, the 2008 financial crisis affected the utility’s budget for many years, Salem Public Works director Peter Fernandez said.
That wasn’t the case for all of Oregon’s municipal water suppliers.
In nearby Washington County, for example, the Joint Water Commission – made up of Hillsboro, Forest Grove, Beaverton and the Tualatin Valley Water District – accomplished all of the water conservation goals it laid out in its 2010 plan.
Salem Mayor Anna Peterson declined to respond to questions about the City Council’s policy and budgeting for water conservation.
Lisa Jaramillo, of the Oregon Water Resources Department, said Salem is meeting the minimum bar set by the state.
“We want them to continue to improve, but things happen that are out of the city’s control sometimes,” Jaramillo said.
But WaterWatch’s DeVoe said the city isn’t doing enough.
“Salem as a municipality may not feel like it’s very important to stress conservation,” DeVoe said. “I think that’s missing the point. These rivers belong to all of us, and it’s everybody’s responsibility to keep them healthy so we can all realize the benefits they provide.”
Although Salem’s conservation pieces fell to the wayside, Goeres-Priest said, residents still are getting the message.
“During the summer months, you can drive around and notice a lot of people are letting their lawns go dormant,” she said. “We see our customers responding even if we have not necessarily put forth a tremendous amount of outreach and education.”
And water use in Salem has been declining, she said.
Metered consumption across all users, not just residential, fell 13 percent between 2009 and 2012, from 8.24 billion to 7.15 billion gallons.
While that’s good for the environment, it’s not necessarily good for Salem or its water customers, Goeres-Priest said.
“If folks really, really reduced water use or we saw large water users stop or move out of the area, it does impact the amount of revenue we see and we adjust accordingly,” she said.
That could mean reducing staffing and programs, delaying infrastructure replacement, or even raising rates.
So, who are Salem’s biggest residential water guzzlers?
Unsurprisingly, they’re some of the city’s wealthiest and most prominent residents, with big houses, expansive properties, extensive plantings and pools. Here’s the list (yearly bill is for water only; the city charges other fees):
LARGEST RESIDENTIAL WATER USERS IN SALEM
Water used: 600,644
Homeowner: David and Laura Kruss
Address: 720 Kingwood Drive NW
Yearly water bill: $2,072
The Krusses bought their home a little over a year ago. The 2,358-square-foot house was built in 1956 and sits on a third of an acre with a large perennial garden.
After going through a complete growing cycle, the couple is now preparing to revamp their watering system, Laura Kruss said.
“Both from a conservation perspective and certainly for the cost, we are in the process of reviewing the watering schedule, both duration and amount, and replacing everything that leaks,” she said. “We don’t want to use any more water than we have to.”
Water used: 614,856 gallons
Homeowner: Derek and Julia Sadowski
Address: 567 High St. SE
Yearly water bill: $2,121
The Sadowskis bought this spectacular five-bedroom Spanish Colonial estate at the top of Gaiety Hill in April 2014, and live there with their two young boys. They are slowly restoring the home, which is on the Historic Register.
The 6,667-square-foot house was built in 1928 and sits on a 0.63-acre lot. It has six bathrooms with original fixtures.
“You’re not dealing with plumbing that’s modern,” Derek Sadowski said.
The couple so far has installed low-flow, high-efficiency showerheads in three bathrooms.
The property also contains perhaps the most historically correct garden designed by the Salem landscape firm of Lord and Schryver, Sadowski said.
“The Conservancy expects them to be maintained. However, the cost is a burden,” he said.
So far, they’ve rebuilt all five garden fountains, installing recirculating pumps and sealing leaky bases. And they are working with the city to install a separate irrigation meter – at no small cost to the homeowner – to reduce the fees associated with water use.
“To address it from an environmental standpoint is high on our list, but also from an economic standpoint for our family,” Sadowski said. “We’re tackling it.”
Water used: 615,604 gallons
Homeowner: Rod and Teresa Carey
Address: 675 Winding Way SE
Yearly water bill: $2,123
This 2,128-square-foot-house, built in 1953, sits on a 0.84-acre lot. The Careys purchased the home in September 2009.
They did not respond to a request for an interview.
Water used: 635,052 gallons
Homeowner: Scott and Angela Cantonwine
Address: 477 Washington St. S
Yearly water bill: $2,190
Scott Cantonwine is president and CEO of Salem-based Cascade Warehouse Company; Angela Cantonwine is the company’s chief financial officer.
Their 5,187-square-foot-house, built in 1940, sits on a 0.36-acre lot. They did not respond to a request for an interview.
Water used: 672,452 gallons
Homeowner: Paul Ferder
Address: 1525 Acacia Drive S
Yearly water bill: $2,319
This 3,900-square-foot-house, built in 1974, sits on a 0.34-acre lot.
Ferder, a Salem defense attorney, could not be reached for comment.
Water used: 687,412 gallons
Homeowner: George Goesch
Address: 2741 Front St. NE
Yearly water bill: $2,371
This 3,178 square-foot-house, built in 1930, sits on 0.82 acre. Goesch, a State Farm insurance agent, purchased the home in 2003. It’s currently for sale.
Goesch did not respond to requests for an interview.
Water used: 699,380 gallons
Homeowner: Clark and Kathleen Thompson
Address: 1225 Acacia Drive S
Yearly water bill: $2,412
Clark Thompson, a Salem otolaryngologist, and his wife own this 11,192-square-foot home, on 1.22 acre, built in 1970.
The property comprises five city lots, and three of them don’t get watered at all, Kathleen Thompson said.
“We let them brown up, and have for years,” she said. On the rest of the property though, she said, “unfortunately we have a lot of ornamentals that we have to water. It’s a big problem.”
Water used: 713,592 gallons
Homeowner: Linda and Charles Parker
Address: 2155 Reed Court SE
Yearly water bill: $2,461
This 1,796-square-foot home sits on 0.23 acre. Charles Parker, a mechanic, and Linda Parker, an accountant, did not respond to a request for an interview.
Water used: 726,308 gallons
Homeowner: Zahidul Siddique and Srabonti Hasque
Address: 502 Sussex Ave. SE
Yearly water bill: $2,505
Siddique, an Oregon Department of Transportation highway safety engineer, and Hasque purchased this 2,604-square-foot home on 0.33 acres in 2012.
Hasque was surprised to learn her home made the list. She has a large yard and waters every other day, she said, and she runs her washing machine every day.
“Maybe that’s the reason,” she said.
Water used: 771,188 gallons
Homeowner: Jeffrey and Samantha Jones
Address: 3906 Corredale Drive S
Yearly water bill: $2,660
Salem attorney Jeffrey Jones and his wife built their 8,263-square-foot house on a nearly 5-acre property in 2013.
They did not respond to a request for an interview.
Water used: 927,520 gallons
Homeowner: Michael and Alix Truax
Address: 560 Washington St. S
Yearly water bill: $3,199
This 7,221-square-foot-house, built in 2005, sits on a half-acre lot in the Fairmount neighborhood and includes a putting green.
Alix Truax was surprised to hear her home was among the city’s top residential water users. But, she said, “We had a sprinkler system that was inoperable. It was a nightmare. We had gushers.”
The couple recently replaced the sprinklers with a drip system. “By next year, it should be a lot less,” she said.
Water used: 1,449,624 gallons
Homeowner: Bob and Pamela Smith
Address: 3136 River Road S
Yearly water bill: $5,000
Bob Smith cofounded VIPS Industries, holding company of the Phoenix Inn Suites hotel chain. The Smiths’ 11,465-square-foot house, built in 1995, sits on a 5.38-acre property. The Smiths did not respond to a request for an interview.
Water used: 1,887,952 gallons
Homeowner: John and Marise Morrow
Address: 1355 Copper Glen Drive SE
Yearly water bill: $6,512
John Morrow is chairman of the board of Salem-based Morrow Equipment Company. The Morrows’ 11,189-square foot house sits on nearly two acres. The Morrows did not respond to a request for an interview.
Water used: 2,149,004 gallons
Homeowner: David and Laura Daniels
Address: 955 Barkstone Court SE
Yearly water bill: $7,412
The Danielses’ 9,150-square-foot house, built in 1971, sits on 2.78 acres. David Daniels, president of Brooks-based May Trucking Company, declined an interview.
Water used: 6,910,024 gallons
Homeowner: Bob and Debbie Boss
Address: 3820 Cheviot Way S.
Yearly water bill: $23,834
Bob Boss is president of the Boss Enterprises chain of Burger King restaurants. The Bosses built their 4,490-square-foot house on just over 5 acres in 1998. They did not respond to a request for an interview.
Water used: 7,144,896 gallons
Homeowner: Marvin Babb
Address: 538 Statesman St. NE
Yearly water bill: $24,644
Take this one with a grain of salt.
Babb could not be reached for comment, but it’s possible this astounding water use was due to a leak, as city data show that 99.8 percent of that water was used during one month.
Babb’s 1,400-square-foot home was built in 1890 and sits on a tiny lot of a little more than a tenth of an acre.
City of Salem officials declined to say whether Babb or other customers on this list reported a leak. Producing a list of leaks reported over the past year would take three hours and cost the newspaper $240, the city said in response to the Statesman Journal’s request for that information under Oregon’s public records law.