In a recent interview, Pleasanton's operations services director and the city's water czar Daniel Smith talked in-depth about what the city and its residents can do to continue saving more water, in light of a possibly longer drought and the new water reductions.
Amid the state's ongoing drought, Gov. Jerry Brown announced April 1 an executive order for mandatory statewide water-use reductions, the first-ever order of its kind in California's history.
Brown directed the State Water Resources Control Board to implement mandatory 25% reductions in water usage by California cities and towns through February 2016.
The Pleasanton City Council had already instituted a mandatory 25% water restriction last May.
"There's something people didn't hear enough of last year which was the city, the businesses and the residents all came together. We want to make sure everybody knows that was an outstanding job and we really appreciate what they did," said Daniel Smith, Pleasanton's operations services director and the city's water czar.
What has Pleasanton been doing to cope with the drought?
Smith: "Last year we were actually in the same situation as what the governor is calling for now. Last spring, the council already established a local emergency stage 3 which was 25% reduction over 2013, which is the benchmark year.
The good news is, this year is not any different than last year because the governor is now calling for all of California to follow those rules and not just the Tri-Valley.
There is a nuance there that I want you to be aware of. It's actually on a sliding scale. It's anywhere from 10% to 35%, and that's a nuance that most people don't understand.
The reason is that everybody's situation is a little bit different. What they're basing the cutbacks on is what we call gallons per capita per day, or how much water does a person in your city use. Let's take for example the cutback for San Francisco, it's only 10%. The reason is they only use 50 gallons per person a day. Pleasanton's cutback order is 25% because we use 113 gallons per day. So the average is 25% but it could be anywhere from 10% to 35%."
Moving forward, are there any changes that Pleasanton is doing to save water? Or are we continuing the same efforts?
"The good news is that 99% of it is the same as what we did last year because most of the prohibitions we had in place are exactly what the governor did for his declaration. There are some minor differences.
Restaurants, last year, were asked not to serve water unless people ask for it. This year, the governor has mandated not to supply water period unless it's requested. Small difference but it is a difference. He's now asked hotels and motels, this year, to allow people to request not having their towels and sheets changed every day. Most of what is being done for the general public is the same.
Another minor difference in his ordinance, which we'll be changing ours to match, is that you cannot irrigate outside within 48 hours of precipitation. If it rains and you irrigate the next day, you could receive a citation for that based on the state mandates."
In relation to the new mandates for businesses, is Pleasanton in charge of enforcing those mandates?
"This year, the state's mandating us to do it so that we can mandate you to do it. The enforcement tool they have with us is that they can fine us for violating those prohibitions."
How do you handle a restaurant or business not following the prohibitions?
"We would give them a warning like we always do and collaborate with them to get them to do it. But if they refuse to do it, they could receive a citation or a penalty for that."
How much is that citation?
"Our penalties are in place already. Those were in the ordinance last year, if you didn't save 25% there was a penalty structure for that, and it's the same as it was last year. The citation amount is the same too. It starts at $50 and can go up to $500, depending upon the number of infractions that you had."
What can residents do to get through this drought and save water?
"Pretty much the same thing as we did last year.
You have two types of water use, indoor consumption and outdoor consumption. Of course indoor consumption, in most cases, is a pretty hard number ... and what we mean by that is you could only save so much water inside. We want you to save as much as you can inside.
If you have appliances that are not up to the most water-efficient standard, there are rebates locally for replacing those. There's also a new state program, which we don't have details on yet for this drought declaration, where there are going to be more rebates available.
The big savings you're going to get is outdoors ... not over-irrigating or, in some cases, not irrigating. If you need to make a choice whether you have water inside your house or outside your house, it's very simple. I know there are people attached to their landscaping but it's something that has to change.
There are also current rebate programs for getting rid of your turf, or the grass out front, which is the big water use. The governor is going to add some incentives so you can receive rebates for taking some of your lawn out. If you decide to do that, it's important to remember there are requirements you have to meet for that. Don't just do it. Come to us and we'll help you understand the requirements, and we'll make sure you qualify for the rebate."
Are golf courses using recycled water for irrigation?
"Some golf courses are on recycled water. Callippe's golf course uses potable water and recycled water because last year we started trucking recycled water from the plant down there. We're going to do that again this year. We tell people to cut back 25%, we have to do the same thing. But that is a very important asset for the city, so it's worth it for us to truck recycled water down there. We pay for that with the money we saved on the potable water that we don't buy.
Ruby Hill Golf Course does not belong to the city, but they do not reuse recycled water. They'll be required like everybody else to cut back 25% this year. Golf courses were exempt in the past but in this new order, golf courses, cemeteries ... everybody's in this because there is simply not enough water."
What advice can you give to Pleasanton residents with pools?
"Pools are a big problem if they're not maintained properly. The first thing you need to do is cover your pool. There's an awful lot of evaporation that happens out of a pool, and anybody that has a pool knows that because they have an automatic fill on it. But if you turn that automatic fill off in the summertime when it's warm, you can watch the level of that pool drop every day.
That water you need to refill it with is a huge demand. When you put a cover on a pool, it takes care of over 90% of the evaporation.
If you have any leaks in your system, you need to fix that. There are also other restrictions on pools: you cannot drain them and clean them. The only reason you can drain a pool and refill it during this drought emergency is if you have a structural deficit that is detrimental to the pool where it's going to cause you to lose it."
Does Pleasanton have programs in place to help with leaks?
"There's some technical things people need to understand but also we're very customer-service oriented and we have a drought center. If you have a problem, you call us and we'll send someone over to your house to help you.
Once the water goes through your water meter, which is out at the front of your property, it's all your responsibility after that. The thing you can do is look at your water meter. If you look right in the center of that water meter, there's what's called a low-flow indicator and it's a little red triangle. If that's turning, you have water leaking somewhere if everything is shut off.
A good resident managing their property during the drought would help us out by looking at the low-flow indicator. If it's leaking and you can't identify, call us and we'll help you figure out what it is so you can fix it.
If you continue to let that leak and you go over the 25%, you can't use that for an excuse because you're required, within eight hours, to fix any leaks on your property. We had a lot of people doing that for us last year."
How are other cities in California doing with conservation?
"Everybody had to report to the state what they were doing. If you look at the Tri-Valley, we were tops in the state. There were other cities in that were running out of water that did great, yet some cities didn't save anything and even some that were over (25%). There's a real disparity and that's one of the reasons the governor got where he ended up at. We all need to be in this together."
How is the city of Pleasanton thinking long-term with the drought?
"Water sustainability and water diversity are key. One of the problems the Tri-Valley ran into this year, which everybody was aware of but the drought magnified, is we get all our water from the same place which is the State Water Project.
The SWP last year, for the first time ever in its 60-year history, gave us an allocation of 0%. We need to diversify our portfolio so that we're not planning on that one thing, which is what got us in the place that we're at.
Zone 7, our local water wholesaler, is in charge of that. We've been meeting with them on a series of water policy meetings over the last six months trying to figure out ways we can diversify our portfolio.
Recycled water is one, our council has approved the large recycled water project for Hacienda Business Park, it's phase one. We're in the final stages of preparation with the state and we're hoping to go into construction this summer. If we do it as a Tri-Valley, we are much more powerful because we can do more together than apart so we're trying to get a coalition to work together.
We have to be more efficient in the design of our outside landscaping, parks, houses, buildings, and maximize that use of water. If you look at the amount of water we're using, it's been going down. This drought just magnifies how we need to do a better job."
With the new housing developments around Pleasanton, how is that going to affect the water conservation goals?
"That's a hot button for everybody. They planned to build that three or four years ago when there was water and there are reasons you just can't stop them. Also, droughts ... you don't know how long they're going to last.
Do we need to build (housing) better? Yes. Is the state applying more and more restrictions to how you build them so they're efficient along with the city? Yes. You cannot stop building unless it's done statewide or area-wide, because if you stop building in one city, they're just going to build in another city.
Until our water wholesaler declares a moratorium on building because they can't provide water, the city, legally, is really not in a position to do that. We need to leverage all the things we can to design it and build it the best way we can."
Long-term, what mentality should Pleasanton residents have during the drought?
"This drought has really focused us back on what's important. The most important resource on earth is clean, fresh water. We need to look at how we manage that resource differently.
We need to recycle water and use it more than one time, that's why we're building a recycled water system. We need to manage the asset better. We need to realize we don't live on the East Coast where it rains all summer and you can have these big, beautiful lawns and landscaping. We live in a desert, these droughts come periodically and as climate change is happening, it's accelerating.
We have to use water wisely outside. We have to be more efficient in the way we use it indoors ... and all the things that we do because you see the problems that it causes us. It's causing problems in our economy because that water has to be used for growing food. If we use so much of it in the urban setting and landscaping and those luxuries, it's going to be a real problem.
Another thing that is an issue ... we not only have a global crisis for quantity but also quality. We use water to clean everything, from your paintbrush to your car to everything. We're using the most valuable resource there is, and we're polluting it by using it to clean everything that we do. We have to change the way we look at that."