Rain has a welcome sight for the Bay Area this week, but the Santa Clara Valley Water District says more needs to be done to counteract the multi-year drought that has left California parched.
At a Nov. 25 board meeting, the water district board voted unanimously to spend millions of dollars more to extend its water conservation efforts and encourage residents in Santa Clara County to use 20 percent less water through June 30. Previous plans had the call for water reduction to end after January.
Santa Clara County is in a "severe" drought, based on projected levels of groundwater storage, and local supplies like the Steven's Creek Reservoir are at only 3 to 6 percent of their total capacity. Water levels in the Chesbro reservoir are so low they are below the district's measuring gauge, according to a water district report.
To combat the drought, the water district has implemented a 15-part strategy that includes, among other things, a campaign to get water use among county residents down by 20 percent for 2014 -- a plan that has since crept into mid-2015. The extending the campaign will cost a total of $3.8 million. The reduction, according to the report, can be made through voluntary "behavioral changes" to bring down residents' personal water consumption.
North county cities like Palo Alto and Mountain View are falling short of the water district's conservation goals, but there's a reason why, according to Elizabeth Flegel, Mountain View's water conservation coordinator. Flegal said the city receives 90 percent of its water from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, which is only calling for a 10 percent water reduction. Mountain View followed suit, and announced in February that city residents should cut down on water use by 10 percent.
But Flegel said the city is also honoring the Santa Clara Valley Water District's call for water reduction, and has reduced its water use specifically from sources of water within the water district by more than 20 percent.
Palo Alto had a 15 percent water use reduction for 2014, but dropped down to only 10 percent in October. Mountain View has reduced its water use overall by 14 percent this year, slipping down to 13 percent for the month of October. Morgan Hill was the only city in the county to break that 20 percent goal, reaching 24 percent overall water reduction for the month of October.
The reductions in Mountain View alone translate into 405 millions of gallons of water saved, according to the city website, with the biggest reductions in the early months of the year.
"We've been really impressed with our customers and all of their efforts they've put into dealing with the drought," Flegel said.
Conservation tips from the water district include fixing leaks, installing water-efficient toilets, washing machines and low-flow showerheads, and watering lawns less frequently during the fall and winter seasons. The water district website also recommends people aim sprinkler heads correctly, and reminds them that no matter how much they water it, concrete will not grow.
At the Nov. 25 meeting, Morgan Hill resident John Muirhead asked water district board members what they expect people to do to reduce water use by 20 percent when they are already going out of their way to conserve water. Board President Tony Estremera said people at a previous town hall meeting expressed the same concerns, and that the conservation campaign is really geared towards people who haven't "changed their minds yet."
"I'm still outside on the sidewalk telling my neighbors, 'Hey, what are you doing washing your car? Haven't you figured out what's going on out here?'" he said.
Most of the conservation campaign, according to Estremera, has been about telling people who have conserved water to keep up the good work, while also telling people who haven't adjusted their behaviors to 'step it up.'
"We're not trying to bother the people who have already helped us get to this point, we're trying to wake up the rest of us that haven't yet gotten there," Estremera said.
Board member Brian Schmidt, who represents the north county, questioned whether people should be watering outdoors at all during the wintertime, and suggested a possible ban of outdoor water use with very few exceptions.
"It doesn't make sense to water in the wintertime," Schmidt said.
If severe drought conditions continue, Schmidt said the water district could continue the ban into spring, and that it would be easier to keep the ban in place, rather than trying to introduce the ban in May when people have started to water their lawns again.
Staff member Garth Hall said the water district will work with cities and other water retailers to promote water conservation, and that it would be appropriate to ask them whether they could support a ban on outdoor watering and whether they would need to fit the ban into an existing city ordinance or modify an ordinance to make it work.
Hall said the water district will also be in touch with water retailers to see how they will respond to the board's decision on the extended call for water reduction. A report by the district predicts that increased costs and lower water use are going to bring up the cost of water rates in the next fiscal year.