On June 28, the Mountain View City Council passed a resolution declaring a Stage 2 drought emergency. The associated rules are on the city website. The water supplier for most of our county, Valley Water, requested a 15% reduction, but the water supplier for most of Mountain View, the San Francisco Utilities District, requested a 11% reduction.
Today, water conservation is of vital importance. Not only are we in the third consecutive year of drought, but we are also in the driest 20-year period in over 1,200 years. It’s overwhelming. What should/can we do? Well, the answer is a lot. Let’s talk a bit about the short-term and long-term efforts that are needed. If this is as far as you plan to read, don’t forget to water your trees. A good soaking, once a month is necessary.
Right now, we need to reduce our collective water use from 11% to 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 out the city website by your account at WaterInsight.MountainView.gov to see how this year’s water consumption compares to last year. Commercial meters are also available to install on your home.
For most of us, the way to find out is to make operational changes to our water use. Water engineers have figured out how much water generally goes with what uses. In California, about half of our water use is for landscape irrigation. So if you normally water your landscaping three times a week and reduce to 2 times a week, chances are you’ll meet Valley Water’s 15% reduction. Stage 2 rules have more specific do’s and don’ts that are designed to provide the necessary reduction.
Leaks are also a huge waste of water. According to industry estimates, 10% to 13% of residential water use comes from leaks. The City notifies customers when a water leak is suspected. Depending on the seriousness of the situation, you will receive a letter, a flyer or a phone call. Owners are supposed to find and fix their own leaks, but city staff will help you find it. We reported a leak on the land side of the meter last summer and they were there to fix it within 30 minutes.
If you feel like you’ve been conserving water for a long time, it’s because you have. Since the drought of 1976-77, California has made tremendous efforts to use water more efficiently. We’ve all learned to only run our clothes and dishwashers at full load, to turn off the water while we brush our teeth, to collect cold water from the shower for the plants, to install water-efficient toilets, removing lawns and replacing them 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 1960s, but for almost 3 times the population and much more agricultural production.
In Mountain View, our water usage peaked in the 1980s at around 16,000 acre-feet per year, but now it’s around 10,000 acre-feet.
But with climate change, we know that the water supply that comes largely from the snowpack of the Sierra Nevada mountains is much less reliable. The forecast is that more precipitation will be rain and less snow. Since the snowpack is the reservoir of our state, this is a big problem. Using water more effectively and efficiently is more important than ever. Match the water quality needed to the use; Using recycled water or gray water, where appropriate and safe, becomes a more important way to meet our water supply needs.
Increasing our use of recycled water is something that gives me hope. Since the 1980s, Mountain View has had a purple pipe system to supply recycled water to North Bayshore for irrigation. Our recycled water is wastewater from tertiary treatment. The supply of reclaimed water has always exceeded demand because the water was too salty to irrigate some plants – including redwoods, citrus trees and some grasses. The number of times this water could circulate through the cooling towers was also less than optimal.
An advanced purification facility called the Local Salt Removal Facility is being designed for the Palo Alto Wastewater Treatment Plant. Basically, water that has already undergone standard tertiary treatment will be further treated with techniques typically used for desalination, such as reverse osmosis. This ultra-pure water will be mixed with tertiary treatment wastewater to produce high quality recycled water. It will be distributed to our North Bayshore for non-potable uses. Many thanks to the staff at the Palo Alto processing plant for their work on this new processing facility. Some funding issues resulting from increased construction costs need to be resolved. If our grant application is accepted, water could be available from this new facility in a few years.
Because I have spent over 30 years working in water resource management, I could talk for hours about these issues, call or write if you want to know more or share your ideas and concerns.
Pat Showalter is a member of the Mountain View City Council. She recently retired from Valley Water after working in the district for 15 years, can be contacted at [email protected]