The economic recession appears to have been good for water conservation, with total water use in 2009 reported to be the lowest in Mountain View since the mid-1990s.
The city used about a billion gallons less in 2009 than in 1997, when water use peaked at 13.25 million gallons per day. Last year, an average of 11 million gallons per day were used.
There are several reasons for the downturn, said Elizabeth Flegel, the city's water conservation coordinator. A declining economy causes businesses to cut water costs. Drought-tolerant landscaping has become popular, as have water-efficient faucets, shower heads and toilets. And Mountain View is no longer home to a number of computer component manufacturing companies which used more water than the office buildings that replaced them.
Several city initiatives may help lower water use. The city's new recycled water system north of Highway 101, which waters Shoreline Park and Google's landscaping, is capable of reducing the city's water use by 1 million gallons a day. If expanded south of Highway 101, the system could save millions more, said Greg Hosfeldt, assistant public works director.
Meanwhile, a green building code is in the early stages of development that may call for water-efficient faucets and fixtures in new Mountain View developments. Several cities on the Peninsula are working on similar indoor water-use regulations, Flegel said.
New rules for outdoor water use are in the works as well: As reported last week, the city is proposing to require water-efficient landscaping on new developments. City staffers hosted a public hearing on the issue last Wednesday evening, and a handful of residents attended to put forth, among other concerns, the question of who exactly would be subjected to the ordinance.
Flegel said it would only apply to major new development projects which require planning permits -- typical homeowners would not be effected.
Others at the meeting asked about a proposed requirement for separate irrigation water meters for large landscapes; who would be qualified to draw up landscaping plans; and how greywater and rainwater would be factored into the regulations.
So far the city has taken the carrot approach to water conservation by working with the Santa Clara Valley Water District to provide incentives for water conservation. Many businesses may be unaware that water efficient toilets and faucets for businesses can be obtained for free from the Water District. Cash rebates are available for those who replace high water use landscaping with water efficient landscaping -- up to $2,000 for homeowners and $20,000 for businesses. And those who are unsure about what they can do to save water can have someone visit their home for a free "water wise" estimate.
For more information, call the city's water conservation hotline at (650) 903-6216.