As winter continues to produce some of the driest conditions on record in California, local agencies are looking toward spring with concern.
With local reservoirs at 30 percent capacity, Gov. Jerry Brown convened an interagency drought task force last month. If rain levels don’t increase by April, the California Department of Water Resources may be able to deliver only 5 percent of water contractors’ requests.
However, water rationing doesn’t appear to loom for customers in the Santa Clara Valley Water District.
“We’re not likely to see anything like that needed here,” said district spokesman Marty Grimes.
A water wholesaler, the district protects and manages the water that local suppliers distribute to 1.8 million Santa Clara County residents, including households in Los Altos and Los Altos Hills.
Even after two years of little precipitation, Grimes said the water district’s groundwater supplies remained at a normal range at the conclusion of 2013. He said prudent long-term planning and investment bolstered the district’s capacity to meet demand.
Planning for droughts to come
The water district recently opened a $68 million Silicon Valley Advanced Water Purification Center in San Jose to reuse existing resources. Although recycled water accounts for only approximately 5 percent of the current water supply in the county, the new facility is able to transform up to 8 million gallons of wastewater into drinking-quality water each day.
By replenishing local groundwater basins and funneling excess water to a semitropical water storage district in Kern County during years when rainfall was at or above normal, Grimes said the district had implemented contingency plans for water deficiencies that are becoming more routine.
“We know that the state goes through cycles of drought, so we prepare for those cycles so that we can continue to provide water to customers,” said Ken Jenkins, conservation manager for California Water Service Co., the entity that purchases water from the district for the 472,000 customers in Los Altos, Los Altos Hills and across California. “Our approach has always been to work with (customers) on voluntary reductions before moving to mandatory reductions.”
Patrick Walter, director of the Purissima Hills Water District, said the water wholesaler that serves Los Altos Hills customers, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, determines water restriction recommendations around April 15. Until then, Purissima Hills encourages customers to conserve water and reduce irrigation during the winter months.
Making conservation a way of life
When Eric Evans and his wife, Cheryl Breetwor-Evans, designed their more than 10,000-square-foot home in Los Altos Hills, they made water recycling and reduced water consumption integral elements of their plans.
“We wanted to build a luxury home in a responsible way,” Evans said. “It feels good to know that water from showers and clothes washers gets used a second time.”
His system includes a 40,000-gallon underground storage tank that harvests rainwater from his rooftop vegetable garden and a greywater system that diverts used shower, sink and washing machine water to plants and landscaping on his property.
According to the Santa Clara Valley Water District’s website, water conservation efforts like those of Evans’ have stabilized districtwide water use since 1992, despite population growth of 25 percent. CalWater confirms growing consumer consciousness, citing a 21 percent decrease in water use in Los Altos, from 259 gallons per consumer per day in 2008 to 197 in 2012.
But Los Altos residents remain some of the most voracious consumers of water, using 2.5 times as much water as the average Bay Area user, according to the Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency’s 2011-2012 Annual Survey. Only their neighbors in Hillsborough and Los Altos Hills surpass Los Altos consumers in water consumption.
During fiscal year 2011-2012, nearly 1,300 local homeowners participated in the Water Wise House Call Program, a service that dispatches technicians to homes, apartments, condominiums and mobile homes to survey water use and installs free water-saving devices. Other users took advantage of the district’s High-Efficiency Toilet Rebate Program and requested free toilet flappers, showerheads, aerators and other conservation devices.
The district Jan. 1 announced additional incentives for homeowners by increasing the district’s Landscape Conversion Rebate from 75 cents to $1 per square foot for preapproved conversions to more drought-resistant vegetation and added a $100 rebate for the installation of residential Laundry to Landscape greywater systems. Because landscaping accounts for 50 percent of all residential water use, according to the district, such programs play an important role in reducing consumption.
“Many people care about things and are doing all they can,” Grimes said. “Consumers should make conservation a way of life. … We’re going to have dry years.”
For more information, call the Santa Clara Valley Water Conservation Hotline at (408) 630-2554 or visit valleywater.org.