Last updateThu, 18 Jan 2018 4pm


State's drought prompts water-waste awareness, call to conserve

Northern California is officially experiencing a very dry spring. Most communities received less than 20 percent of normal rainfall from March through May, the final survey of the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountains last month revealed 67 percent of normal and runoff into rivers is at 55 percent of normal.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzeneggar issued a drought proclamation June 4 calling for immediate action throughout the state.

While rationing is not yet mandated by the state, many cities are restricting outdoor water use and asking customers to cut overall use by 10 percent to 30 percent. California Water Services Company has asked customers to reduce water use by 10 percent.

After the water company requested a 10 percent reduction last year, Santa Clara County residents cut their use only 3 percent to 5 percent.

Can't we do better than 3 percent, 5 percent or 10 percent? How about 20 percent?

The first step is to know how much water you use. The Santa Clara Valley Water District (SCVWD) reports the average family of four uses 400 to 500 gallons of water each day.

The average use in Los Altos Hills is higher due to larger lots and lawns. Visit www.calwater.com/your_account-usage.php to learn your account usage.

Since I started to track my water, gas and electricity use regularly approximately two years ago, I have cut overall use in all three areas approximately 20 percent each year and gained 50 percent water efficiency – here's how:

• Look for irrigation leaks, particularly in lawn sprinklers. They are often invisible to the eye but can spew untold gallons of water underground. I have LeakPros come out and check for leaks every spring now. I check my drip irrigation lines monthly and I always find heads that have popped off or need adjustment.

• During the summer, outside irrigation can multiply household water use dramatically beyond what is used in winter, highlighting the biggest opportunity for conservation. Lawns are the single largest cause of wasted water in the United States. A 1,000-square-foot lawn guzzles 25,000 gallons of water during the three months of summer. Assuming 2,000 square feet of lawn per household, 50,000 gallons water annually for irrigation and approximately 10,000 single-family homes in Los Altos, that adds up to 500 million gallons of clean, drinkable water wasted on lawns in one year alone.

Yikes! Solution: get rid of turf lawn altogether. I have ripped out my front lawn and I am planting a drought-tolerant native-plant garden that requires no water after the first year or two. Rebates are available through the county water district to replace that grass with drought-tolerant plants.

• The best time of day to irrigate is before 7 a.m. Limit outside watering to 10 minutes, three days each week – allow grass to get a little brown. Install drip irrigation rather than spray or mist irrigation and install a smart controller – make sure it has a rain sensor on it. Rebates are available for smart controllers and efficient irrigation systems through SCVWD.

• Another water waster are old toilets that use from 3.5 to 7 gallons per flush. Toilets account for 20 percent to 25 percent of household water use. Install a high-efficiency toilet that uses 1.28 gallons per flush or less. Rebates for $125 are available through the water district.

• Install a high-efficiency clothes washer. On average, a typical household can save 6,450 gallons of water, between $80 and $100 in electricity and $54 in detergent costs annually. This year, SCVWD is offering $125 to $200 rebates for qualified clothes washers.

• Install a low-flow showerhead with a 2.5-gallon-per-minute flow and limit showers to five minutes. Schedule a free water audit through SCVWD. Auditors will install free Niagara showerhead replacements, faucet aerators and new flappers for leaky toilets as part of the audit. Call (800) 548-1882.

• Cover pools when not in use to reduce evaporation 90 percent to 95 percent. Without a cover, an average pool 18 feet by 36 feet loses about one inch of water or more per week at the peak of summer. This can waste 200 to 300 gallons each week.

• Don't let the water run. Fill a bowl with hot water to rinse your dishes; don't run the dishwasher until it's full, turn off the faucet while brushing teeth and install an on-demand recirculation pump such as the Metlund ACT with an activation switch that gets hot water to you quickly. This saves water from going down the drain while you wait and saves energy compared to conventional recirculation pumps.

The above changes can have a significant impact and could reduce your household water use by more than 20 percent. Start some new habits this year and prioritize irrigation items first.

For more information on rebates offered by Santa Clara Valley Water District, visit www.valleywater.org/conservation.

Kacey Fitzpatrick is principal of Avalon Enterprises Inc., a LEED-accredited professional and the founder of Cool Los Altos. For more information, e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Schools »

Read More

Sports »

Read More

People »

Read More

Special Sections »

Special Sections
Read More

Photos of Los Altos

Browse and buy photos