Palo Alto eyes restrictions on water for fountains, sidewalks

City looks to respond to state directive to lower water usage

Responding to a statewide call for water conservation at a time of severe drought, Palo Alto is preparing to ban the use of potable water in fountains and on driveways.

The prohibition, which the City Council is set to consider on Aug. 4, was proposed in response to a July 15 decision by the State Water Resources Control Board to adopt emergency regulations. The regulations call for water suppliers to initiate contingency plans that include restrictions like the ones Palo Alto is now considering.

The statewide emergency regulations, which take effect Aug. 1, prohibit all Californians from "using potable water for activities such as driveway washing, irrigation that results in runoff, or in decorative fountains (with certain limited exceptions)," a report from the Utilities Department states. The state also requires water suppliers to restrict outdoor irrigation. Violations could result in penalties of up to $500 per day for individuals and larger fines for water agencies that don't implement the restrictions.

The state board's July proclamation followed several executive orders by Gov. Jerry Brown aimed at urging conservation. In January, Brown declared a state of emergency and proclaimed that the state is experiencing record dry conditions, with 2014 projected to be the driest year on record. He called on all Californians to reduce their water usage by 20 percent. In April, Brown issued another order directing the state board to adopt emergency regulations that would address the water shortages.

According to the National Integrated Drought Information System, nearly 80 percent of the state was under "extreme" drought conditions at the end of June, the state's resolution notes.

So far, Palo Alto has achieved water conservation through carrots rather than sticks. The city's water usage between February and June this year was 17 percent lower than during the same period in 2013. The department's initiatives to encourage conservation include doubling of rebates for outdoor irrigation efficiency; "home water reports" that compare residents' usage; water metering that offers real-time data; and landscape water "budgets" for customers with large irrigation operations, according to the report.

The new ban on using potable water in fountains, driveways or sidewalks will kick off the second of four stages in the city's Water Shortage Contingency Plan (with four addressing the most severe conditions). Stage II aims for a reduction of 10 to 20 percent in water supply, through a stepped-up outreach effort and "adoption of some additional water use restrictions."

Stage III includes higher water rates and penalties for violations of water-usage restrictions. Stage IV would introduce "allocations of water for each customer." Neither of these steps is currently being considered.

Despite the prolonged drought, Palo Alto has not been forced to make any mandatory cuts to its water use. The city draws its water from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, which has not declared a water-shortage emergency and has not required cutbacks from its customers. So far, the commission has requested a voluntary 10 percent reduction in water consumption, a goal that wholesale customers like Palo Alto are set to meet.

Palo Alto's Utilities Director Valerie Fong said the city is still working out the details of the new bans and will return at a later date with a plan for enforcing the restrictions. Right now, she said, the goal is to establish the foundation for the new rules.

"In the process of implementing these requirements, we'll have to determine what the consequences should be for failing to follow them," Fong said.

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Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Aug 2, 2014 at 10:25 am

Every month millions of gallons of recycled water are pumped into the bay, rather than being used in Palo Alto, or other municipalities, for uses that potable water will be soon restricted. Why? Why shouldn’t the Palo Alto Municipal Utility be more pro-active in trying to help residents, and businesses, find uses for recycled water during these times when drought conditions are as severe as we now experiencing here in California?

During 2013, the customers of the Palo Alto Utility consumed about 4B gallons of water. A ten percent reduction would mean that users would have to cut back on about 400M gallons over the coming twelve months. Viewed in the aggregate—it’s really difficult to believe that trying to find people washing down their driveways with potable water is really going to achieve much in the way of reducing water use. Perhaps the symbolism of “enforcement” might be meaningful to some, but the actual water savings will be too small to be even considered as negligible.

The problem them becomes: how can our recycled water be made available to customers so that significant savings of potable water can be achieved during drought times?
Fountains that are feed from the potable water supply could have reservoirs installed, which are replenished periodically from recycled sources—such as a water truck. But at what cost? This is where the Utility could step in and provide some analyses that would help fountain owners understand the costs involved in resourcing their fountains from potable to recycled water. We also have to ask: “how many fountains are there in Palo Alto?” If there aren’t very many—then just how much water can be saved under any water management scheme?

As to outdoor use (such as washing down driveways), plastic water barrels could be employed to hold recycled water, which could be used for landscaping, or other outdoor use. The Utility could help by identifying a source of these barrels that would prove appropriate for this sort of use. Conceivably, the Utility could even provide such barrels on a rental basis.

Currently, the City facilities are using about 5% of the total potable water consumed in Palo Alto per year. There is only so much room for conservation on the City’s part. Residents are consuming about 65% of the potable water—so if there are to be any significant reductions in water use—those reductions will have to be made by the residents of Palo Alto.

Having a municipal water provider that seems to prefer punishing users of water, rather than taking the opportunity to experiment with options clearly at its disposal is very disappointing, and suggests that municipal ownership of utilities does not guarantee that solutions to local problems will be materialize during times like these.

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Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 2, 2014 at 10:37 am

I'm already conserving water. However, I do plan to water the trees enough to keep them healthy, and, there is a young street tree in front of our house. I hope no one minds if I water it frequently enough to keep it healthy over the next few months. I hope any water use encourages people to water their street trees.

Like this comment
Posted by Another citizen
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 2, 2014 at 10:59 am

My lawn is already dead, as are many of my plants. I've changed the way we bathe, and the car is covered in bird poop. Before I do anything else, I want to see Liz Kniss, Larry Klein, and company, cut back their personal use enough to offset all the overdevelopment they let through. Not possible is it? We should put a moratorium on new development as an emergency measure and not lift it until the drought is over AND we have a handle on how to move forward without pretending resources are limitless in an arid place.

Like this comment
Posted by resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 2, 2014 at 11:15 am

@Another citizen
Not only is their no curtailment of development in the midst of the
exceptional drought conditions, dewatering for basement construction
continues unabated, not even on the table for discussion,not even in a
Stage IV in PA, with the water flowing out to the Bay. A single residential site can result in the loss of 6-8 million gallons of water. The dewatering at the corner of Newell and Northhamption began just about the same day the State imposed these new regulations. Take at look at it if you are not
upset already.

Like this comment
Posted by Deep Throat
a resident of another community
on Aug 2, 2014 at 2:13 pm

Hasn't the City saved enough water already by not having to water all the trees that staff and their contractors have cut down?

Like this comment
Posted by Long Time PA Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 2, 2014 at 2:52 pm

I remember reading (during the last prolonged drought) that some basements constructions were pumping somewhere between 75,000-100,000 gallons/day for 6 months or longer.
This caused the trees and landscaping in the surrounding areas to dry out. Some homeowners resorted to watering their established trees and shrubs to keep them alive. These would ordinarily not need watering.
It seems thoughtless of architects/builders to talk homebuilders into putting in a basement.

Like this comment
Posted by Another citizen
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 2, 2014 at 10:51 pm

No Deep Throat, because they go after trees, like the ones at Maybell, that are established and don't need to be watered, then figure they can always plant some somewhere else (especially in front of egregious developments as if it will hide them) because we all know water resources are infinite and we urgently must build to pack every person on the planet here.

(The trees at Maybell are yet green and alive, the Weekly really did a disservice by allowing those who wanted to cut them down to control how they were discussed. It's egregious that the City refused to exercise its right to temporarily buy that property and allow residents to try to come up with the money to purchase it. Makes me want to secede. Like Piedmont.

Like this comment
Posted by me
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Aug 4, 2014 at 10:59 am

Why are restaurants still automatically delivering glasses of water to every customer? Shouldn't that be a first step to save water? When was the last time you were "asked" if you wanted water??

Like this comment
Posted by anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Aug 4, 2014 at 11:06 am

The water issues are only going to get worse. PA needs to think about which trees and plants make sense. Dumping water on trees that don't make sense in this climate is irresponsible.

Like this comment
Posted by Save water. Prhibit projects that require dewatering.
a resident of South of Midtown
on Aug 4, 2014 at 11:50 am

No more basements that require pumping. What a deplorable waste. To say nothing of the damage dewatering does to nearby properties and groundwater tables. this needs to stop.

Like this comment
Posted by Concerned
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Aug 4, 2014 at 11:52 am

More reason for concern about ABAG insisting that more homes are built here.
More people to use water, more trees, more plants come with more growth that is turning Palo Alto into New York, San Francisco and Chicago. Wise growth, please, with water shortage in mind.

Like this comment
Posted by wondering
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 4, 2014 at 12:31 pm

@Concerned -- agree with you. Why does ABAG keep pushing dense housing in an area that is subject to cyclical droughts? If we need to save water, then how can we have more and more high density buildings?

Like this comment
Posted by gurujalam sastry
a resident of Mountain View
on Aug 4, 2014 at 12:39 pm

The car wash units use enoromous amounts of water,not only for washing cars but in the evening before closing the workers wash every square inch of the whole floor areas with high pressured water.They must be controlled somehow or even may be asked to close.In my opinion they may be using thousands of gallons of potable water.Kindly look into this...

Like this comment
Posted by gurujalam sastry
a resident of Mountain View
on Aug 4, 2014 at 12:45 pm

Regarding the above comment,I am a P A resident but the car wash unit I referred to is in Mountain View....This is a correction,please,,,

Like this comment
Posted by Allen Veaner
a resident of another community
on Aug 4, 2014 at 12:48 pm

I am very grateful that Tucson is a "no lawn" community. Here, in the desert, we maintain drought-tolerant plants in our patio and use excess water collected (in buckets) from our morning showers to irrigate one lemon and one grapefruit tree, with satisfactory results. We also collect storm runoff from the roof, saving it in cisterns holding 750 gallons. Collecting roof runoff is a very practical and economical way to save water for irrigation purposes. However, we do not consider water saved in the cisterns as potable.

From Allen Veaner, former Palo Alto resident.

Like this comment
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 4, 2014 at 9:51 pm

The city should look at their own usage first. I biked through Mitchell park last night and the sprinklers were on on the Meadow Ave side. Lots of overwatering with water running off in to the street.

Like this comment
Posted by KP
a resident of South of Midtown
on Aug 5, 2014 at 11:21 am

I am glad the parks are still being watered and kept green and usable, but the city depts. need to constantly be watching for broken sprinklers, watering sidewalks and streets, etc. I have seen that going on too much. And the church next door to Mitchell waters the streets regularly. CHECK THE SPRINKLER HEADS!

Like this comment
Posted by CR
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 14, 2014 at 6:08 pm

When I bike to work along California avenue, I regularly see pools of irrigation water in the bike lanes in front of the businesses in the 1100 block, especially at 1117 California Ave. Why is this allowed? Is there some place one can report these cases of over watering?

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

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