Rain does little to dent drought concerns

Palo Alto to discuss state's water shortage, city's response on Monday

With drought conditions still plaguing California, Palo Alto has a simple message for its water customers: There is no need to panic but there is a need to conserve.

The city draws its water from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, which means its not subject to the 20 percent cutback target that the Santa Clara Valley Water District set earlier this week for the cities and agencies it supplies. Instead, Palo Alto and other agencies that get their water from the SFPUC were asked for a voluntary 10 percent cutback as part of a strategy for dealing with the three-year drought.

According to the Utilities Department, the SFPUC is expected to make updated predictions about water conditions in late February and March before making a final declaration about possible water cutbacks in mid-April. The department is scheduled to present an update about California's water shortage and its impact on Palo Alto at Monday's City Council meeting.

In a recent announcement, utilities officials acknowledged that the February storms have helped increase the Sierra snowpack, which flows to the Hetch Hetchy system that in turn supplies water customers. The good news is that these storms have increased the snowpack from 10 percent to 22 percent of normal. The bad news is that this is still "well below normal," according to utilities.

The presentation from the Utilities Department will go over the city's 2010 Urban Water Management Plan, which includes guidelines for dealing with water shortages. The plan is divided into four stages, with the most dramatic one (known as Stage IV) aiming to reduce water usage by 35 to 50 percent and including allocation of water for each customer and severe penalties for those who exceed allotment.

But even though California is now officially under a "statewide water emergency," these drastic measures remain far off in the distance. So far, the Utilities Department has been using carrots of encouragement rather than sticks of penalties to urge conservation. In its most recent announcement addressing the drought, officials said this is "a good time for residents and businesses to keep calm and save water!"

The city is still in Stage I, which seeks savings of 5 to 10 percent of the water supply and that relies primarily on informational outreach and audit programs. According to the staff, the SFPUC had requested voluntary reductions in this range in 1987 and in 2009 and the city was able to achieve these savings. No rationing was imposed in either case.

The staff presentation Monday will also go over the city's actions in addressing the drought and water-saving tips for customers. These include fixing leaks in toilets and hoses; adjusting sprinklers to avoid runoff; resetting sprinkler timers based on rainfall and eschewing extra-long showers and needlessly running faucets.


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Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 27, 2014 at 4:03 pm

For political and legal reasons, we will never have mandatory water cutbacks but something more effective than voluntary 10% reductions would be graduated pricing of water based on use. Set a base price and allotment for each member of a household and then escalate the price from there.

Like this comment
Posted by PA Utilities Customer
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 27, 2014 at 4:43 pm

So I have come up with some ideas to help us all save more water.

All men and boys to pee on the lawns and landscaping. This will work double as it will save flushing and save outside watering.

All laundry taken to the local Laundromat so we use their water, not ours.

All showers to be taken at gym or swimming pool, same reason.

All poops to be done at work or school, same reason.

Forget about handwashing for hygiene as it uses too much water, use hand sanitizer instead.

All women to go to spa and beauty salon weekly to save water.

All teeth and cooking to be done with bottled water - local California spring water of course.

All meals to be served on paper plates, drinks to be consumed from disposable containers, etc. All food to be bought ready to serve so that no water needed for preparation, or cleanup.

Build less homes in Palo Alto, then less water customers and more for the rest of us to share around.

All my ideas for less home consumption are tongue in cheek of course (in case anyone thought otherwise).

Like this comment
Posted by Anonymous too
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 27, 2014 at 6:48 pm

@PA Utilities Customer,
"Build less homes in Palo Alto, then less water customers and more for the rest of us to share around."

That's actually a serious idea.
Why we should focus on greening existing buildings rather than building new ones
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"In an era of LEED-certified construction and growing concern for sustainability, it comes as a surprise that constructing new, energy-efficient buildings can be less eco-friendly than renovating old ones."

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"It's better for the environment to renovate rather than demolish a house like this old one, according to a new report." "Building materials and processes are highly energy intensive, and new homes can use four to eight times more resources than an equivalent renovation. So building anew with new materials, however good the long-run energy efficiency of the building in use, has major energy, carbon and…environmental impacts,"

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"Environmentalists have begun to embrace the idea that new, cutting-edge eco buildings don’t necessarily promise the best route to sustainability. Old buildings do. Rehabilitating them is considerably less wasteful – and more realistic – than replacing them all together." and "Residential redevelopment creates more jobs than new construction does."

New construction is also a water intensive endeavor in and of itself.

Like this comment
Posted by Digress
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 27, 2014 at 9:16 pm

Why are there always sirens on rainy days? Why can't Californians handle the rain? Even wet roads throw them off. Maybe it has to do with the lax drivers training rules. Online learning and hardly any training. When I grew up here, the driver's ed car would be at Paly after school and we would take off for an hour and a half. Of course, we had hardly any homework back then.

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