Keeping your lawn alive just got a little more difficult. Following state-mandated requirements to reduce water use, Mountain View City Council voted 5-1 Tuesday night to adopt a plan that would reduce the city's water usage by restricting, among other things, landscape irrigation to only two days per week.
The city of Mountain View will be required, by the state, to reduce its water use by 16 percent compared to 2013, which amounts to about 500 million gallons over the next nine months. The number sounds daunting, but the city has already reduced its water usage by 13 percent and would only need to save an additional 180 million gallons on top of what residents have already saved.
To get over the hump and avoid a daily fine from the state of $10,000 for failing to comply, the city imposed restrictions that would only allow landscape watering two times a week beginning in June. Odd-numbered addresses will be able to water on Monday and Thursday, and even-numbered addresses will be able to water on Tuesday and Friday. Each watering period will be limited to 15 minutes.
The watering restriction would save the city an estimated 171 million gallons of water between now and June next year, assuming people were watering an average of four days per week in 2013.
If Mountain View residents stick to the new requirements, the city is expected to breeze past its 16 percent reduction in the coming year, according to Greg Hosfeldt, the city's assistant public works director. Between the new watering restrictions and reducing water budgets at parks and golf courses, the city is expected to drop use by between 570 to 633 million gallons this year, Hosfeldt said.
"We're not necessarily trying to stop right at 16 percent, ideally we'd like to go beyond that," Hosfeldt said. "(With) another year or two of drought, we'll be tasked with even more conservation requirements."
City Council also approved an extra $292,000 for drought response programs by the city, which would go towards mailing water use reports to water users, testing the city's smart meter program and sending out informational mailers, fliers and signs supporting reduced water use.
Lawns and other landscaping tend to be the target of new requirements from the state, and now from the city, because it's one of the largest non-essential uses of water. Landscape irrigation accounts for about one-third of the city's total water use, of which 23 percent is "large" landscaping such as parks, according to Elizabeth Flegel, the city's water conservation coordinator.
Council member Lenny Siegel voted against the decision, saying there should be more leniency in how residents reach their reduction target, rather than being told what days they can water and for how many minutes. People are cutting back in different ways, Siegel said, such as letting the backyard lawn die to keep the front lawn green.
"When we start getting to telling people exactly when and how long they're going to water, then I'm uncomfortable," Siegel said. "People know there's a shortage of water, everybody is trying to conserve it. But people have different priorities on how they want to do it."
If the city goes ahead with the strict landscape watering requirements, Siegel said it would be pretty hard to enforce, would take tons of staff time and would be incredibly expensive compared enforcing lower overall water usage rates compared to previous years.
"You'd have to go out to my house all night every night with a stopwatch to find out how much my sprinklers are on," he said.
While council ultimately voted for the watering restrictions, council members John Inks, Mike Kasperzak and Chris Clark all supported having staff looking into a performance-based model for individual residents, rather than a "prescriptive" approach with enforced landscaping restrictions.
Of the $292,000 in funds, $100,000 is allocated to test new smart meter technology that the city could use to give residents quick updates on how much water they're using, rather than a monthly or bimonthly report. Kasperzak urged city staff to accelerate the implementation of city's smart metering program post-haste, and expressed concerns that they were moving too slow.
"It seems like we're just processing this as a usual sort of thing when we're in a crisis, and we ought to be doing things as fast as we humanly can," Kasperzak said.
Mike Fuller, the city's public works director, said putting the smart meter program in the fast lane would take a great deal of staff time and resources amid the new restrictions and the "tremendous traffic" of questions and complaints from Mountain View residents regarding water conservation. By focusing on the water use mailer programs, he said, they will be sure to reach more people with a method that is known to be effective.
"We felt that the mailer program that we recommended, considering the limited resources we have and the tremendous workload associated with the drought, that it's a better use of staff because it's a known way forward," Fuller said.
Kasperzak, skeptical, said residents could do a whole lot more with "real instant feedback" that smart meters can provide.
The new water use restrictions do not include the use of recycled water, meaning the hundreds of thousands of gallons of water used to irrigate landscapes in North Bayshore and golf courses will not need to be cut back. Hosfeldt said there's plenty of room to expand that recycled water use.
Mountain View falls well short of the 3 million gallons of recycled water they are budgeted for by the Palo Alto Regional Water Quality Control Plant, and it's just a matter of hooking up new customers.
"We will be using additional staff resources to reach out and more aggressively pursue those additional users who have not connected yet," Hosfeldt said.
Cutting back in North Bayshore
The grass isn't always greener on the other side of Highway 101, where Google has been particularly successful reducing the water use in and around its company headquarters, using anything from high-tech solutions like water-recycling laundry machines to simply letting lawns get a little brown.
The company has reduced its water usage by 25 percent since 2013 and is continuing to find ways to cut down, according to a Google spokesperson. The company has removed over 750,000 square feet of landscaping and converted it to drought-resistant plants, which is expected to save 26 million gallons of water each year, the spokesperson said.
Google has also partnered up with laundry water recycling company zNano to pilot technology that will recycle 80 percent of the water used in laundry machines, and startup company Nebia for new shower head technology that, again, would use about 80 percent less water.
While the company has been using recycled water for landscaping whenever possible, the spokesperson said, all irrigation that uses drinkable water has been dialed back while still keeping the trees alive.