Almanac

News - January 29, 2014

Public urged to step up water conservation

by Renee Batti

As state, regional and local water agencies step up efforts to encourage water conservation in the wake of the governor's declaration of a drought-related state of emergency, local homeowners might consider heading for the hardware store.

Gov. Jerry Brown's declaration of a state of emergency is in response to the state's "record dry conditions, with 2014 projected to become the driest year on record," according to the proclamation he issued on Jan. 17. The action requires state agencies to launch a campaign calling on Californians to reduce their water usage by 20 percent.

Customers served by California Water Service Co. (Cal Water), including residents of Atherton, parts of Menlo Park, Portola Valley and Woodside, have already cut back on water usage by 20 percent since 2007, said Tony Carrasco, the agency's district manager. But, he said in a press release issued after the governor's declaration, "We encourage customers to keep up the good work, and take advantage of all of the conservation programs we offer."

One program that company and other local agencies sponsor offers rebates to replace water-inefficient fixtures and appliances, and for replacing lawns with water-efficient landscaping.

Although concerned about current conditions and the potential for the drought to extend into the next rainfall season, water officials in the Bay Area haven't pushed the panic button yet. That's because much of the region gets its water from the Hetch Hetchy water system, administered by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC), "which is better off than other (water sources) in the state," said Nicole Sandkulla, chief executive officer of BAWSCA — the Bay Area Water Supply & Conservation Agency, which represents 24 cities and water districts in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Alameda counties.

Ms. Sandkulla said she and other local water officials are waiting for the SFPUC's notification, expected on Feb. 1, about whether there's a need for water rationing. Meanwhile, she said, "we all support the governor's call for a 20 percent reduction in water usage."

BAWSCA, Cal Water and the city of Menlo Park, which has its own water department that serves portions of the city, offer conservation tips on their websites and information about how to apply for rebates. Tips include replacement of shower heads and toilets for water efficiency, use of aerators on faucets, and installation of water-efficient automatic irrigation systems.

Both Cal Water and city of Menlo Park customers are eligible for lawn-replacement rebates, but those projects must be pre-approved and must meet specific requirements, said Ms. Sandkulla of BAWSCA, which co-sponsors some of the rebate programs with local agencies.

Menlo Park Public Works Director Chip Taylor said that in addition to offering rebates and water-conservation education to the community, the city is looking for ways to reduce its own water usage in parks and landscaping in public spaces. Work crews are checking the city's irrigation system for leaks.

The city is sending letters to restaurants encouraging them not to offer water unless customers ask for it, and is planning to talk to some of its largest water users to see if there are ways the city can help them reduce their use, he said.

Atherton is also closely monitoring irrigation systems for leaks, and looking for ways to make adjustments for optimal efficiency, according to Steve Tyler, the town's public works supervisor. The department waters the town's landscaping between sunset and sunrise whenever possible to minimize evaporation, and replaces old or dead trees and shrubs with drought-resistant native plants, he said.

Information

For water conservation tips and information about rebates for replacing fixtures, appliances and landscaping, go to:

• The conservation link at calwater.com.

• MenloPark.org. Click on Environmental Program in the City Department link.

• BAWSCA.com. Click on Water Conservation Programs at the bottom of the page.

Sandy Brundage and Dave Boyce contributed to this report.

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