Woodside water use exceeds Portola Valley's


Woodside's per-capita water use grew significantly in 2013, substantially exceeding water consumption even in Portola Valley, according to data from the California Water Service Company, Woodside's primary supplier of fresh water.

Woodside's residential water consumption in 2013 was 421 gallons per person per day, compared with 305 gallons in Portola Valley. In 2012, the numbers were 377 gallons for Woodside and 283 for Portola Valley.

Figures were not available for Atherton or Menlo Park. Cal Water releases data only to city or town officials, and only upon request, said spokeswoman Dawn Smithson. Woodside and Portola Valley requested the data.

The Bay Area average for 2013 was 79 gallons per person per day, according to the Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency.

This drought officially began in January 2014, but exceptionally dry weather has been a concern to state officials since 2012, according to the Department of Water Resources.

Water use is higher outside a house than inside, and residential irrigation tends to rise during a drought, Ms. Smithson told the Portola Valley Town Council recently. The typical outside-to-inside ratio is 60-40 percent, but the ratio was 70-30 in the Bear Gulch district for 2013, Ms. Smithson said.

The Bear Gulch district consists of Atherton, Portola Valley, most of Woodside and parts of Menlo Park. Overall usage for 2013 was double that of the Cal Water district serving San Mateo and triple of that serving South San Francisco, Ms. Smithson said.

Portola Valley officials learned of the town's 2013 number amid a multi-faceted effort, begun in March, to galvanize the community to conserve water. The Woodside council, by contrast, approved a resolution in January in recognition of statewide water conservation efforts.

A big leak?

"I think we, as residents, should be embarrassed and ashamed as water users," Woodside Councilman Ron Romines said at the July 8 Town Council meeting.

Mr. Romines was responding to a presentation by Woodside resident Debbie Mendelson, a member of the Sustainability and Conservation Committee. Ms. Mendelson outlined months of assiduous work behind the committee's recommendation to initiate a water conservation program.

She added, with some heat, that she expected a commitment from the council. "How do we have a town of 5,000 people using 421 gallons a day?" she asked. "I hope there's a big leak."

Mayor Dave Burow responded: "Do we want to have a water conservation program? I think the answer is yes," he said. "The devil is in the details. ... The program would have to be embraced by the community and not just the council."

Perhaps a study session, Mr. Romines suggested. Perhaps more than one study session, said Councilman Peter Mason. "There's a lot of concern by a lot of people who want to save water," said Councilman Dave Tanner, after noting that Woodside is populated with large parcels.

The Portola Valley council, by contrast, has acted, Ms. Mendelson said. "It's up to the (Woodside) Town Council," she said. "You've been elected to lead the community. You shouldn't have to take a poll."

"I think we definitely need to take some leadership on this and not just frame the question," Mr. Romines said.

Portola Valley

Ms. Mendelson visited the Portola Valley council chambers the following night, July 9, when that Town Council heard two presentations on water conservation: from the California Water Service Company, and from a town task force that has been devising strategies to engage the community on the issue.

"We're very troubled," Portola Valley Mayor Ann Wengert said, noting the new statistic and a continuing trend. "Unfortunately we're going in the wrong direction, but that increases the urgency," she added after the council approved a $3,400 budget for the task force.

The Cal Water presentation included statistics and conservation goals. On the higher use of water outdoors, Bear Gulch district manager Smithson added: "There's a lot of play in this area. A lot of this use isn't necessary to sustain human life."

Conservation will remain a priority in that Cal Water plans for future residential developments, she said. "We're really needing to find reliable sources of water. We're not ever going to have a need for less water," she said. "It's kind of nice to get people thinking about this."

Bear Gulch purchases 85 percent to 95 percent of its water from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, with the rest supplied by surface runoff, according to BAWSCA. Reservoirs serving Bear Gulch are in "good shape," Ms. Smithson said, but "conservation is really important in making that last."

What can be done? Cities can enact ordinances and penalties, including watering restrictions and fines, Ms. Smithson told the Almanac. For now, the focus is on education, but, she added, "if a city or town we serve enacts an ordinance to promote water conservation we would, in turn, support their efforts."

Ms. Wengert told the Almanac that she would not speculate on council action at this point, and deferred to the task force. Among its recommendations: raising the consciousness of gardeners on conserving water. If the town engages the landscape contractors who hire them, there's a better chance of getting the gardeners' attention, Councilman Craig Hughes said.

Redwood City partnered with Acterra of Palo Alto in a bilingual water conservation workshop for gardeners that included a certificate for attending, said Councilwoman Maryann Moise Derwin. "It was very, very meaningful for the gardeners," she said.


Like this comment
Posted by cc
a resident of Woodside: Family Farm/Hidden Valley
on Jul 15, 2014 at 12:12 pm

Can't wait to see the Atherton numbers.......

Like this comment
Posted by Dagwood
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jul 15, 2014 at 12:32 pm

The information being provided by the water retailers and districts is terrible, and they should be taken to task for not doing a better job. In Menlo Park, it's not known how well the city as a whole is doing to reduce consumption, and then, whether there's a meaningful average reduction, or if there are some outliers (similar to Woodside) who are big consumers. The cities around MP also need to work together to manage the groundwater supply which for sure is going to be tapped for irrigation and is a finite 'commons'. Without improved and constant public feedback, and cross-city coordination, we're going to have trouble adapting. Correction: We're already having trouble adapting.

Like this comment
Posted by PJ
a resident of Woodside: Mountain Home Road
on Jul 15, 2014 at 1:03 pm

Have you considered the fact that Menlo Country Club put in a new golf course and watered it continuously?
That would explain the high usage in Woodside!!!

Like this comment
Posted by Richard
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Jul 15, 2014 at 1:38 pm

Seems like an outrageous amount of water. On the other hand, residential use is insignificant - California has abundant water, but mismanages it. 80% of California's water is used for agriculture, principally in the central valley. Almonds alone use 10% of our state's water supply.

Like this comment
Posted by Woodsider
a resident of Woodside: Woodside Glens
on Jul 15, 2014 at 6:54 pm

Los Trancos is on a different water provider. Many residents of local communities have wells. How accurate can any of these figures be?

Like this comment
Posted by reality
a resident of another community
on Jul 16, 2014 at 6:36 am

My goodness for such an intelligent group of people talk about the proverbial head in the sand!!!
1) Woodside uses so much water because the wealthy residents feel entitled to have lush green lawns and boutique vineyards and swimming pools and lush landscaping.
2) Yes, a committee sounds perfect. Talk about it long enough and do nothing and maybe the rain will come. Phew, that was close!

Gosh folks just admit it. Woodside is the land of "money solves all problems". The majority will continue on with their lush landscaping, pay any fines that might be incurred, maybe take a shorter shower once a week to feel good about themselves, and hope it all goes away. As a SM County resident who drives on 84 to get home everyday it is very clear that those precious gardens are not going anywhere. Don't worry, us lesser folk are conserving. We've got your back.

Like this comment
Posted by SMH
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jul 16, 2014 at 12:27 pm

Yet, when we applied for a permit to use artificial turf in our Woodside backyard this spring, we were told it was considered 'hard surface', and not allowable due the amount of 'hard surface' already on the property (house and garage). We wanted to install artificial turf in large part because we did not want to waste water on a lawn, yet needed the open space for a variety of activities.

Like this comment
Posted by local
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jul 17, 2014 at 12:57 pm

80% of California's water use is by agriculture and industrial farming. yes, everyone should conserve, but unless restrictions are applied to the farms (both cattle and big aggie), our water use will not change.

Don't complain to your neighbors, complain to the gov't and water use boards to restrict water to farms and businesses that have not cut back.

What else can you do? Avoid eating beef. Takes a lot of water to grow a cow, far more than other mammals/poultry.

Woodside is no more or less lush than MP/PA/LA/Atherton... no need to point fingers like old biddies.

Like this comment
Posted by Disappointed in Woodside
a resident of Woodside: Family Farm/Hidden Valley
on Jul 20, 2014 at 8:21 pm

Who is worse: Gordon, who claims to be the BAWSCA rep to the Council yet brings NOTHING to the council, or mayor Burow, who shows no leadership? A horse race.

Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jul 21, 2014 at 7:28 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"when we applied for a permit to use artificial turf in our Woodside backyard this spring, we were told it was considered 'hard surface', and not allowable"

This is planning/building dept error. Artificial turf has drain holes under its entire surface and actually drains down better than real grass. I suggest that you contact the Town Manager to get this interpretation reversed.

Like this comment
Posted by Concerned
a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge
on Apr 10, 2015 at 9:06 am

It is very hard to find any information on what reduction we, as Portola Valley residents, are required to do. I hear because we used so much we have to reduce by 35%, but it is hard to find a definitive answer on this. Does anyone know?

2 people like this
Posted by really?
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 10, 2015 at 10:26 am

really? is a registered user.

Pitting one community against the the other is not the way to fix this problem. We all need to stand up against Sacramento and cut water usage out of agriculture and fracking!

But please stop watering your lawn and just live with brown grass for this season.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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