What Eastsound Water Tells Us
by Toby Cooper
If you listen carefully, water – this miraculous and vital substance that covers 70% of our planet – speaks to us. And when water speaks, it speaks volumes. He talks about climate change, politics, human survival itself.
But when he spoke to the Eastsound Water Users Association last month, something curious happened, and it caught my eye.
On September 22, EWUA released a water use study under a headline that read, Eastsound Water Board Fixes Misleading Report on Virtual Reality Water Use. But it turns out that the “misleading” report was not at all misleading. Let me explain.
In 2019, Paul Kamin, then Managing Director of Eastsound Water, discovered that RVs used a lot of water. A typical two-bedroom house is occupied by a family of three, but a two-bedroom house with a vacation rental license can accommodate up to seven people. It’s no surprise that the RV property – although occupied – uses about double the water.
This warning, while busy, is essential. If the use of water during occupancy is the result of the “worst case”, what are the obstacles to extending this worst case over more of the calendar year? After all, RVs aren’t vacant by design or regulation, but by the markets. They are open to the public every day of the year. Also, what are the permanent obstacles to the growing proliferation of RVs in Eastsound or elsewhere in the county? None at the moment, of course. But there should be, and we have a chance to change that now.
Paul concluded that RVs use about 89% more water in July and August, the months with the most tourists and the least rainfall.
So what did the Eastsound Water Board find? They sliced and sliced the data at a more granular level by creating user categories and blocking the calendar year into segments for analysis. They discovered many possible iterations and combinations to calculate, but no matter how you do it, homes with RVs use around 74-110% more water than equivalent homes without an RV license. RVs in high season can use 3 times more water than an equivalent residence.
So where does that leave us? It looks like the spit match between EWUA and Paul Kamin is, as William Shakespeare wrote, Much Ado About Nothing. They basically agree. All of this argues for more limits to RVs, not less. Never mind Shakespeare; today we are all in the same boat.
Yonatan Aldort said of VR last March: “No other business enterprise uninvited to fit in with such proximal imposition in our private lives. They look like familiar residences on tiptoe, offering little clue of their business pedigree, and yet they hold an undeniable power to transform a community.
The departmental council gives its agreement. After extensive (and exhaustive) public hearings this year, the Council found that “the over-concentration of vacation rentals in neighborhoods … will have a negative impact on the sense of community, the environment, overload infrastructure … and degrade the tourist experience.
If you feel the earth shaking under your feet these days, it’s because the San Juan County Council and Planning Commission are finally considering rational limits to the limitless proliferation of RVs on these beautiful islands that we love and love. we need them to do the right thing.
The debate is timely, robust and, hopefully, productive. Let’s listen – including the pragmatism of simple water data – and solve that problem now.