Water Study Comparing Residential Water Use by Different Classes of Users

Sep 22, 2021 | Information

Released and Approved by the EWUA Board September 2021

This study is prepared and released by the Eastsound Water Users Association Board in response to an unauthorized presentation regarding Vacation Rentals given under the letterhead of Eastsound Water.

The conclusions stated in the unauthorized presentation were flawed in part because the study did not differentiate between seasonal residences and full-time residences. Failing to account for the difference in water use between a seasonally-occupied residence and a full-time occupied Residence gave skewed and misleading results.

This study gives a more robust and accurate report by considering occupancy while separating residences into primary user groups and, then, examining the impact of the water use of each group.

In this study, we explore the water usage of 849 residences in the Eastsound Water Users Association (EWUA) district in the years 2019-2021 to help answer the following questions:

  • Do vacation rentals use more water than other residences do?
  • Are vacation rentals using more water than is allotted to them by EWUA?
  • Are vacation rentals a burden on EWUA’s system?

We found that one class of vacation rentals did use more water than other residences, while another class used half as much water. There is no evidence of vacation rentals using water in excess or inappropriately.

EWUA provides water to about 850 homes plus about 270 commercial or other accounts within the service area shown on Map 1.

Map 1

EWUA is the largest water provider on Orcas Island. EWUA also provides water to most of the businesses on the island.

Do Vacation Rentals Use More Water than Other Residences?

We separated the 849 service area residences into 4 classes:

  1. Full-Time Residents with VR Permits, which we define as residences occupied year-round and with an active vacation rental permit. These units may be bed and breakfasts or Air B&Bs or a family with year-round use who also have an active vacation rental permit. We use the term “full-time residents with VR Permits” to describe all of these possibilities.
  1. Seasonal Vacation Rentals, which we define to be residences occupied seasonally with an active vacation rental permit.
  1. Full-Time Residences, which we define to be residences occupied year-round without an active vacation rental permit.
  1. Seasonal Residences, which we define to be residences occupied part of the year and without an active vacation rental permit.

Using permitting data from San Juan County, we found 46 of the 849 residences have active vacation rental permits on file as of July 2021. We use these 46 units for all three years (2019-2021). There are 211 active vacation rental permits on Orcas Island, with 22% of those being within the EWUA service area.

If a residence used less than 3,000 gallons in the first quarter of each year, they are classified as occupied seasonally for that year. 

Residences using more that 3,000 gallons in the first quarter of each year, are classified as occupied full-time for that year.

We, then, determined the overall usage for each class per year as shown in Graphic 1. Please note that the annual data for 2021 is only a partial year. Graphic 2 looks at just the summer usage (April-August).

Graphic 1
Graphic 2

“Incremental use caused by visitors” is the amount of additional water used by full-time residences with vacation rental permits over what a full-time residence without a permit uses. Units with vacation rental permits are shaded. There are a total of 46 units with vacation rental permits.

The visitors who stay with full-time residents cause a small incremental amount of water usage over the normal full-time residential use. The incremental increase in annual water use due to visitors staying with full-time residents is about 2,000 to 6,400 gallons a year. Multiply this by the 25 homes with full-time residences with vacation rental permits and the incremental use caused by visitors is equivalent to the water used by 1 to 5 homes. In total, all visitors staying at homes with vacation rental permits use about 3% of the water used by EWUA members, while making up 5.4% of all residences served.

Graphic 3 shows the impact of each class on the system as a whole. Full-time residents without a permit use about 81% of all water used by residential members. Please remember that the data for 2021 is for a partial year (January through August).

Graphic 3

Seasonal vacation rentals use no more than 3% of the water used each year. 

Are Vacation Rentals Using More Water than is Allotted to them by EWUA?

EWUA permits a home to use 100,000 gallons of water per year at the standard billing rate. Very few of our members exceed this amount. None of our members are a burden on EWUA’s system. The average year-round resident uses about 42,000 gallons in a year. EWUA permits a member to use more than twice the average amount of water before charging a surcharge for the water. 

Graphic 4 shows the number of members, by class, who exceed the 100,000 gallon threshold. Note, we are omitting 2021 for this section since over-usage is an annual measurement.

Graphic 4

In the years 2019 and 2020, none of the full-time residents with VR Permits exceeded 100,000 gallons and only one seasonal vacation rental exceeded 100,000 gallons. About 90% of the homes that use a large amount of water are not vacation rentals.

Are Vacation Rentals a burden on the EWUA’s system?

No. Active vacation rental permits used about 8% of the overall water produced during 2019-2020. During this time period, EWUA did not need to produce at production capacity. Eastsound Water can produce about 100 million gallons of water a year with the current system. A new well, targeted to come online in 2022, should increase total potential production to somewhere to about 175 million gallons. Additional capacity is being added to allow for the refurbishment of the aging plant at Purdue Lake and will provide additional redundancy.

EWUA sells between 55 and 62 million gallons per year. How much is produced and sold is in the lower set of bars in Graphic 5, while unused capacity is in the upper set of bars. Unused capacity is that water that could be pumped from wells with existing equipment or run through the plant at the lake, if needed.

Graphic 5


EWUA currently has the ability to produce about twice as much water as is needed by the members in our service area. Additional capacity can be added, should the need ever arise. None of our members are a burden on the water system. Large quantities of water flow directly to the ocean without being captured and put to beneficial use before becoming salt water.

It is important that we do not combine seasonal residences with full-time residences when comparing to vacation rentals, as that would give a very misleading impression. And, it is important that we do not combine “Full-Time Residents with VR Permits” with “Seasonal Vacation Rentals” as that, too, would give a misleading impression.

How much water one group uses as compared to another doesn’t really matter. All water users are well within reasonable use and are not a burden on the supply.

What does matter is whether production can meet demand and whether we are using more water than can be renewed through precipitation.

The answers are, “Yes, production can meet demand,” and, “No, EWUA is not using more water than can be renewed through precipitation.”

Not only can Eastsound Water easily meet the demand for water but, also,there is enough water that EWUA can assist those whose water supply is insufficient.

Water is a renewable resource. The lake and aquifers providing water to the EWUA service area are healthy and stable.