I live in Oceanside, CA, the northernmost coastal city in San Diego County.
Rather than surfing or swimming in the Pacific Ocean, my relationship with water is as follows:
I drink a lot of it.
I pay a lot for it.
According to this 2022 article:
California has the third most expensive water in the country.
And San Diego County, says this article:
Has some of the highest water rates in the state.
One big reason is that 80 percent of our water comes from very far away.
About 50 percent comes from the Colorado River Aqueduct (CRA):
The Colorado River Aqueduct is a 242-mile system comprised of open canal, tunnels and siphons that carry millions of gallons of water a day from the Colorado River across the desert to people in Southern California:
About 30 percent of our water comes from the State Water Project (SWP):
The California State Water Project is the largest state-built water and power system in the nation. The project collects water from rivers in Northern California and the water travels more than 700 miles down the heart of the state. It’s operated and maintained by the California Department of Water Resources:
These two sources bring water to the Metropolitan Water District (MWD) in Los Angeles, which sells the water to the San Diego County Water Authority (SDCWA), which sells it to my city’s Water Utilities Department (WUD), which sells it to me (ME).
So, most of my water is traveling more than 242 miles from one direction and more than 700 miles from another direction before it reaches my faucet.
Which explains, in part at least, why my water is so expensive.
And now, an additional charge may be forthcoming for Oceanside residents:
In 2021, Oceanside launched its WaterSmart Meter Program:
“Project completion is expected in 2023. More than 44,000 WaterSmart meters will be installed throughout the City.”
According to the WaterSmart Meter Program website:
“This exciting modern technology is part of the City’s continuing efforts to enhance customer service, conserve water, replace aging infrastructure, be more efficient and reduce the environmental impact of our operations.”
City employees currently visit our water meters once a month, but these new devices do away with that:
“The new WaterSmart meters provide remote updates on an hourly basis. Customers will have 24/7 access to this near real-time data, allowing you to view your water usage at any time and monitor use to more quickly identify the possibility of leaks and opportunities to reduce your water usage. This will also provide increased billing transparency to all our customers.”
This new program comes with a smartphone app and stuff to sign up for and a WaterSmart portal and everything else we need so we can become Best Friends with our water, drip by drop.
But, says the above Union-Tribune article, a number of people who live in residences where those “more than 44,000 WaterSmart meters” will be installed are unhappy about the fact that if we can view and monitor our water usage…
So can the city of Oceanside.
And that, they feel, is an invasion of privacy:
“The AMI smart meter [pictured] is really a surveillance device masquerading as a metering device,” said one Oceanside resident.
(Consistent with my practice of leaving no acronym unexplained, AMI stands for Advanced Metering Infrastructure. This is a new-and-improved-and-more-expensive version of AMR, or Automatic Meter Reading.)
Another resident said, “It’s unnecessary for the meters to record consumption hourly, when only a single reading at the end of the month is needed to send the customer a water bill. This program would give the city much more information than is needed to generate a bill.”
“Hourly water consumption rates could show whether people are at home or away, when someone is ill, what time they water their lawn, and other information,” noted another.
So the city suggested to these and other concerned residents that they could opt out – they’ll still get a WaterSmart Meter, but the data transmitter wouldn’t be installed with the meter.
That sounded swell, until the city added, “There will be a monthly $20 opt-out fee for this.”
So now we have a situation of Oceanside residents saying:
- I didn’t ask for this.
- I don’t want this.
- I have to pay $240 a year to not use something I didn’t ask for and don’t want.
I can understand being miffed about this.
Though I find this concern about privacy somewhat ironic, because I’m betting that some – maybe most – of these same people who are so concerned about their privacy are on Facebook and YouTube and WhatsApp and TikTok telling the world what they had for breakfast and showing pictures of their dog’s latest accident on the family room carpet.
And those social media platforms are taking our data and monetizing it – selling it to marketing companies, so even more people have access to all sorts of information about us.
Or, as this article put it, back in 2017:
So, sometime soon, someone from Oceanside’s Water Utilities Department will show up at my house and install a WaterSmart Meter.
And if the city wants to count how many times a day I flush the toilet – and when – I don’t care.
As long as that water keeps flowing in from the CRA and SWP to the MWD to the SDCWA to my WUD and through the AMI to…
In case you’re wondering why I think this controversy in Oceanside, CA would be of interest to anyone outside of Oceanside, CA, it’s because the Union Tribune article said that “…cities across California are moving to automated metering systems.”
And as everyone knows…
For better or for worse…
It’s true – just think of all the socially significant, culturally vital, and historically important trends got their start in California.