Despite the rain this week, City Council members unanimously voted to declare a water shortage emergency on Tuesday, asking residents to take measures to reduce water use to reach a 10 percent reduction goal.
"Even though it's raining now, we are so far behind a typical rainy season," said council member Mike Kasperzak. "We have had bad droughts in the past, we muddle through them. Water is more important now and becoming scarcer and scarcer with climate change."
City officials presented a list of six water uses that are always prohibited, which residents and businesses are asked to be careful to adhere to during the so-called "stage one" water shortage:
-- Wasting water from broken or defective water systems. Time allowed for repairs is 10 days.
-- Using water in a manner that results in flooding or runoff into the gutter.
-- Cleaning hard-surfaced areas with a hose unless equipped with a shutoff valve.
-- Washing vehicles with a hose unless equipped with a shutoff valve.
-- Serving water in a restaurant, except upon request.
-- Operating single-pass cooling systems.
Those prohibitions are usually enforced on a complaint basis, but not during water shortages. And anyone who is caught and ignore notices about the problem from the city, faces a penalty: city code "authorizes the city to install flow-restriction devices on the water service line of a customer who violates the water conservation provisions."
"If you read the ordinance, we're going to bend over backwards not to turn people's water off," said council member Jac Siegel. "There two to three notices, an appeals hearing hopefully they will respond with these many different ways we will contact them."
In the early 1990s, there was a drought bad enough to require a 25 percent reduction, said Elizabeth Flegel, water conservation coordinator. If such a "stage two" water shortage happens soon, residents will be asked not to wash their cars with a hose, to not turn on irrigation systems from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and to not use water in decorative water fountains, among a slew of other things.
Expanding recycled water system
The city uses a whopping 10.5 million gallons of potable water per day. City Council members indicated support in a study session Tuesday for expanding the city's recycled water system to save as much as 520,000 gallons of potable water a day in a few years.
Kasperzak told the Voice that the project to lay 23,000 feet of purple recycled water pipeline could be "shovel-ready" by the end of 2015 to take advantage of a state loan program.
"This could be something that happens relatively quickly, the whole point being to reduce demand for potable water," Kasperzak said.
The existing recycled water system -- fed by the Palo Alto water treatment plant -- already saves nearly a million gallons of water per day, with estimated peak use of the recycled water system expected to rise to 1.38 million gallons a day when the project is complete.
The city already has 39,000 feet of pipe serving 84 customers in North Bayshore, mostly office campuses. The city's golf course no longer uses recycled water because of concerns about its effects on the greens.
The expansion in the works could serve another 145 acres in North Bayshore and 500 acres at NASA Ames, where Google is set to build a new campus on a 40-acre section within city limits known as the Bayview Parcel. Plans showed recycled water lines stretching from the Bayview Parcel, on the northwest corner of NASA Ames -- where Stevens Creek meets the bay -- to Moffett Field's Ellis Street gate near Highway 101.
The next phase could add 23,000 feet of pipe to 31 customers at a cost of $13.4 million to $16.8 million, with much of the NASA portion likely to be paid for by Google as it develops in the area, said the city's deputy public works director, Greg Hosfeldt. Google is inclined to use recycled water in its buildings to flush toilets as well as for landscaping, he said. The line also would serve NASA users but the extent to which NASA would contribute to the cost is "to be determined"
The cost will "hopefully be offset by a very low interest loan and some state grants to drop that number significantly," Hosfeldt said.
City staff and City Council members have concluded that it isn't cost effective at this point to extend the system south of Highway 101, though four other options were presented for extending the system to downtown, the Whisman area, El Camino Hospital, and numerous parks and apartment complexes throughout the city.