Financing tools for water, energy conservation

By Supervisor Dave Roberts

The Golden State is rapidly turning brown, thanks to three back-to-back dry years.

Combined with an increasing demand for fresh water, conservation is becoming an increasingly important piece of our water supply puzzle.

State and local officials are urging the public to use less water. With voluntary reductions falling short, the State Water Resources Control Board is moving forward with steep fines for water waste. That means watering sidewalks or ignoring restrictions on outdoor watering could get you a fine.

This might not change for quite a while. Our reservoirs and mountain snow packs are at near-record-low levels. Bone-dry conditions have communities bracing for another dangerous wildfire season. Even farmers are struggling. Without water, their livelihood is at stake.

For Californians who are already taking steps to use less water, we must find ways to help them do even more. And for those who have not cut their water use, something needs to be done.

The good news is that many communities are beginning to implement conservation measures that actually work. Some utility bills feature water-use report cards. Other counties and cities offer personalized tips for cutting back. Even “cash for grass” programs that pay people to trade water-guzzling lawns for drought-resistant landscaping are now in place.

At the county, I have partnered with Chairwoman Dianne Jacob to bring forward Property Assessed Clean Energy, or PACE, which allows residential property owners to purchase water-conservation and energy-efficiency upgrades by financing them through their property tax bills.

The HERO program has now been launched under PACE. This program supports investments that make conservation seamless for homeowners, like water-conserving sprinklers, high-efficiency shower heads and toilets, and other devices that cut water use without changing habits.

HERO and other PACE financing programs have been shown to generate jobs and economic activity. More than 150 cities in California have embraced PACE programs. The HERO program alone, which specializes in residential PACE financing, has supported $250 million in projects and helped create more than 2,400 jobs in California since launching in 2011.

The program enables homeowners to finance thousands of options for water conservation, as well solar power panel installations and energy-saving windows and doors. These improvements can increase property values and lower utility bills — and the interest payments are tax-deductible.

Everybody wins, and best of all, San Diego County is likely to see tremendous water savings through the program. In fact, a recent National Resources Defense Council report found that California residential users could improve water-use efficiency by as much as 60 percent through PACE.

Thank you for doing your part to conserve. As we adapt to a drier future, San Diego County will keep developing innovative programs to help people make positive changes for themselves and their community.

Supervisor Dave Roberts represents the Third District on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors.