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New Portola Valley task force focuses on water conservation

Portola Valley residents' water usage: 283 gallons per person per day in 2012 versus 78-gallon average in Bay Area

Self government in Portola Valley often means the participation of committees of residents who gather to consider issues and advise the Town Council. The website lists 17 committees that meet, some irregularly, to address matters such as lifestyles that minimize environmental damage, the art and science of the town's flora and fauna, and preparing for emergencies.

The council on March 12 considered an emergency with a long lead time: the availability of adequate fresh water. The Water Conservation Task Force, for the moment an ad hoc group, may well become a standing committee, Mayor Ann Wengert told the four applicants attending the council meeting.

After brief interviews, a unanimous council appointed Mike Ward of Vista Verde and residents Marty Mackowski, Marge DeStaebler and Judith Murphy. Also appointed but not present were resident Loverine P. Taylor and Jade Williams, an advisory member from the California Water Service Co. The council appointed resident Al Sill to the task force on March 25.

The task force will have two council liaisons: the mayor and Councilwoman Maryann Moise Derwin, who has a longstanding interest in the issue. "We're not going to interfere (with task force business)," Ms. Wengert said, "but I hope you realize that this is an issue of great importance."

"The primary goal (will) be to develop a comprehensive water conservation program for the town," Sustainability & Special Projects Manager Brandi de Garmeaux said in a staff report. Using figures provided by Cal Water, Ms. De Garmeaux calculated that Portola Valley residents used about 283 gallons per person per day in 2012, compared with a Bay Area average of 78 gallons.

Applicants' views

"The cheapest water we have is the water we already have," said Mr. Ward, an old hand at water conservation as an elected official for the Los Trancos County Water District. The future, Mr. Ward said, is decentralized water sources, septic tanks rather than sewers, and smart irrigation devices. In a passing reference to a common tactic of conservation advocates, Mr. Ward added: "I don't like guilt. I like informed, intelligent discussion."

"I actually kind of like the guilt thing," Mr. Mackowski said. On the Monterey Peninsula, residents use about 58 gallons per person per day, he said. (The website of California American Water confirms that figure.) A flier with a message of conservation could accompany a water bill to spread the word, he said. One town's usage went down 5 percent following such a flier, he said.

Ms. Murphy spoke of "mindfulness" and acquainting people with a semi-arid climate that, contrary to the appearance of some landscapes, does not have a bountiful supply of irrigation water.

Ms. Derwin was not present for the meeting. In an email, she suggested conservation practices as well as policies to promote use of recycled (gray) water and captured rainwater. "At the end of the day, we're going to have to make a paradigm shift in the way we think about water," she said. "I am hopeful that our new Water Task Force can help lay the groundwork for our environmentally-minded, super-smart residents to pioneer new water practices in Portola Valley."

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