On June 28, the Mountain View City Council passed a resolution declaring a stage 2 Drought Emergency. The associated rules are on the city's webiste. The water provider for most of our county, Valley Water, has asked for a 15% reduction, but the water provider for most of Mountain View, the San Francisco Public Utilities District, has asked for a 11% reduction.
Right now water conservation is vitally important. Not only are we in the third consecutive year of a drought, but we are also in the driest 20-year period in over 1200 years. It's overwhelming. What should/can we do? Well the answer is a lot. Let's talk a little about both short and long-term efforts that are needed. If this is as far as you plan to read, remember to water your trees. A good soak, once a month is needed.
Right now, we need to reduce our collective water use by between 11% and 25% for the stage 2 drought emergency. Figuring out what produces that percentage is confusing. After all, we only get our water bill every 2 months. In Mountain View, you can check on the city's website by your account at WaterInsight.MountainView.gov to see how this year's water use compares to last year's. Commercial meters are also available to install on your house.
For most of us, the way to know is by making operational changes in our water use. Water engineers have figured out what amount of water generally goes with what uses. In California about half of our water use is for irrigating landscaping. So if you would normally water your landscaping three times per week and you cut back to 2 times per week, chances are you will meet the 15% reduction being called for by Valley Water. The stage 2 rules have more specific Do's and Don'ts which are designed to provide the needed reduction.
Leaks are also a huge waste of water. Industry estimates find 10% to 13% of residential water use is through leaks. The city notifies customers when a water leak is suspected. Depending on how bad it is, you'll get a letter, a door-hanger or a phone call. Homeowners are expected to find and fix their own leaks, but city staff will help you figure it out. We reported a leak on the city side of the meter last summer and they were there to fix in within 30 minutes.
If you feel like you have been conserving water for a long time, that's because you have. Since the drought of 1976-77, California has gone to tremendous efforts to use water more efficiently. We have all been educated to only run our clothes and dishwashers with full loads, turn off the water while we brush our teeth, collect cold water from the shower for plants, install low-water use toilets, remove lawns and replace with native plants. The results of these collective efforts have been successful. As a state, we use nearly the same amount of water we used in the 1960's but for almost 3 times the population and much more agricultural production.
In Mountain View, our water use peaked in the 1980's at about 16,000 acre-feet per year, but now it's about 10,000 acre-feet.
But with Climate Change, we know the water supply which comes largely from the snowpack of the Sierra Nevada Mountains is much less reliable. The forecasts are that more precipitation will be rain and less snow. Since the snowpack is the reservoir for our state, that's a big problem. Using water more efficiently and effectively is more important than ever. Matching the quality of water needed to the use; using recycled water or greywater where appropriate and safe is becoming a more significant way to meet our water supply needs.
Increasing our use of recycled water is something that gives me hope. Mountain View has had a purple pipe system to supply recycled water to the North Bayshore for irrigation since the 1980's. Our recycled water is tertiary-treated wastewater. The supply of recycled water has always been greater than the demand, because the water was too salty for irrigating some plants – particularly redwoods, citrus and some grasses. The number of times this water could cycle through cooling towers was also less than optimal.
An advanced purification facility called the Local Salt Removal Facility is in design for the Palo Alto Wastewater Treatment Plant. Basically, water that has already gone through the standard tertiary treatment will be treated even more with techniques generally used for desalination, like reverse osmosis. This ultra-pure water will be blended with the tertiary-treated wastewater to produce a high quality recycled water. It will be distributed to our North Bayshore for non-potable uses. Many thanks to the staff of the Palo Alto Treatment Plant for their work on this new processing facility. There are some financing issues from construction cost increases that have to be resolved. If our grant application is successful, water may be available from this new facility in a few short years.
Because I spent over 30 years working in water resources management, I could talk for hours about these issues, call or write if you would like to hear more, or share your ideas and concerns.
Pat Showalter is a Mountain View City Council member. She recently retired from Valley Water after working at the district for 15 years, can be reached at [email protected]