Tue11252014

News

"Brown is the new green," says local water district


Lina Broydo/Special to the Town Crier
Are downtown Los Altos flower pots getting too much water? The Santa Clara Valley Water District plans to hire “water cops” to discourage overwatering.

The Santa Clara Valley Water District is spending nearly $1 million to show that it’s getting serious about water conservation and enforcement. The district last week announced that it plans to hire 10 water enforcement personnel to investigate complaints of water waste.

In the wake of mandatory 20 percent cutbacks statewide over 2013 consumption, the state’s Water Resources Control Board reported July 15 that it will levy $500 daily fines on individuals and businesses overwatering in such activities as landscaping and washing cars. The fines stem from a discovery earlier this month that water use has increased 1 percent statewide over last year, despite the worst drought in recent memory.

Regardless of the tough talk of fines and hiring of water police, water wasters may not have to reach for their pocketbooks anytime soon – the district’s water enforcers are not authorized to levy fines, merely to issue warnings.

“We don’t have any sort of authority to give out tickets or fines,” said district spokesman Marty Grimes. “Instead, we’re focusing on education. We’ll respond to reports that we get of water waste or violations of any local water-use restrictions. … In most cases, we anticipate that just talking to someone and informing them that they may be violating a water-use restriction will be enough. If it’s not, we can refer the issue to the local city or water retailer.”

Grimes said the enforcement service will be available throughout the county, including Los Altos and Los Altos Hills, a notorious hot spot for abundant water use on landscaping.

Grimes estimated that it could take a month to hire and train people as well as coordinate with cities and water companies before the “water cops,” as they’ve been called in other media, are out in the field.

New campaign

The water district, which supplies the majority of the Los Altos and Los Altos Hills water supply, continues to try to impact voluntary conservation. Last week, officials announced a new campaign, “Brown Is the New Green,” to urge residents to let their lawns go “a little brown” this summer.

“With proper watering and maintenance, a lawn can survive the drought, while saving a huge amount of water,” a water district press release stated.

The campaign, which involves advertising, bringing in expert landscapers as advisors, erecting signage and issuing buckets, will cost the water district an additional $460,000.

“Lawns are generally the single biggest water user for any typical property, both personal and commercial, which means proper care and maintenance offer the greatest potential for water savings,” water district officials explained.

Water-collection buckets are being distributed to encourage residents to capture water from the shower for use in the yard or to flush a toilet. New ads featuring “Brown Is the New Green” are scheduled to launch in local media beginning this week.

Meanwhile, some local residents are beginning to wonder whether the fines apply to the public agencies themselves, many of which are issuing the calls to conserve.

“In this time of drought, the person who overwaters the city’s plants downtown Los Altos ... are we going to charge him $500 a day?” asked Los Altos Hills resident Lina Broydo, who provided photo evidence of wet sidewalks in downtown Los Altos last week.

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