Concerned about a possible drought in the next couple of years, but confused about how to personally make a difference -- without totally killing the landscaping?
A number of programs run by the City of Palo Alto are encouraging residents (and businesses) to cut back on their water use, by offering free audits and rebates for replacing high-water-using appliances. (For a complete list of all the programs, visit http://www.cityofpaloalto.org and type in "Water Conservation.")
Amanda Cox, the City of Palo Alto water-conservation coordinator, suggests Santa Clara County residents start with a free "Water-Wise House Call," during which surveyors will review specific water usage in a home. The surveyor will check for leaks, both indoors and out, and make suggestions about seasonal irrigation, for example. (Call 800-548-1882 to schedule an appointment.)
According to Cox, a typical Palo Alto homeowner uses 15 water units a month, or 11,220 gallons (one water unit, or ccf, equals 100 cubic feet or 748 gallons).
Indoors, the biggest water guzzlers -- 15 percent of total water in the home -- are toilets manufactured before 1992, which typically use seven gallons per flush. The city is offering rebates of $125 to replace them with high-efficiency, or dual-flush, toilets that use only 1.28 gallons per flush.
"The federal standard is 1.6 gallons. We're going past that bar," Cox said, noting that "there's much better technology (today) and no need to flush twice."
Dual flush toilets have been very popular in Australia, Europe and Asia, she added.
Next highest use, at 12 percent, is laundry. The city is offering $100-150 rebates for qualifying, front-loading, low-energy use models.
"This saves both water and energy," Cox said, noting that the cycle spins so fast, you also save on dryer energy since it doesn't need to run as long. Clothes roll through the water in a front-loader, rather than soaking in a filled tub, which uses far less water.
Showers account for another 9 to 10 percent of home water use, Cox said, so the city recommends replacing pre-1992 showerheads with newer ones that constrict flow to 2.5 gallon per minute or less.
Faucets -- especially older ones with higher flow rates -- make up another 8 percent. The city gives out free aerators, with larger flow suggested for kitchens, less for bathrooms, she added. (Free low-flow showerheads, faucet aerators and toilet leak-detection tablets are available through the Santa Clara Valley Water District, by calling 408-265-2607, ext. 2554.)
Dishwashing and baths represent about 1 percent each, and all the rest of indoor use is usually leaks, either from dripping faucets or toilets, Cox said.
Since outdoor water use accounts for 50 to 60 percent of most homeowners' water usage, the city is offering a Residential Irrigation System Hardware Rebate program, with up to $1,000 returned on more efficient hardware. Palo Alto residents can also get up to $2,000 under the Water Efficient Landscape Rebate program, which "encourages people to take out turf and put in low-water using plants," such as native, drought-tolerant ones or permeable hardscape, Cox said. She quoted a landscaper as saying, "You only need as much turf to do a cartwheel," noting that both Palo Alto and Morgan Hill are doubling the rebate in Santa Clara County, and commercial customers can receive up to $20,000 for replacing turf.
And, the Weather Based Irrigation Controller Rebate Program offers rebates on instruments that manage the watering schedule.
The Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency (BAWSCA) has recently put together a CD on "Water-Wise Gardening in the Bay Area," which offers everything from inspirational garden photos to very-specific tips on seasonal watering schedules. The CD offers suggestions for front, back and side yards, parking strips and borders, as well as plants that will thrive without a lot of water. To get a copy of the free CD, call 650-329-2241.
Palo Alto -- and nearby cities -- are not officially in a drought.
"We're not requiring a 10 percent reduction, but other agencies are," Cox said. "They're waiting to see how this water year plays out before we can really move ahead and say we're at a mandatory 10 percent (cutback)."
But the city is moving ahead to encourage residents to participate in its water-conservation programs.
"We're looking at 10 percent reduction in water usage -- for both residential and commercial programs," Cox said, adding that the city recently renewed its cost-sharing agreement with the Santa Clara Valley Water District.