City drops last of drought restrictions


Responding to record rainfall that revitalized California's reservoirs and the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada, Mountain View City Council members agreed last Tuesday night to drop the last of the city's drought restrictions.

In a unanimous vote at the May 23 meeting, council members rescinded Mountain View's "stage 1" water use restrictions, which the city imposed in 2014 in order to rein in outdoor irrigation and other water uses to preserve the region's dwindling water supply. The emergency measures were a response to a declaration by Gov. Jerry Brown that the statewide drought, which started in 2012, required a big reduction in urban water use.

The city's stage 1 water shortage represents the most lax of Mountain View's prohibitions on "nonessential" water use, and are imposed when the city's water suppliers face a mild shortage. Residents are asked to reduce water usage by up to 10 percent, limit irrigation and avoid run off into paved areas. When drought conditions worsened in late 2014, the city ratcheted up to a stage 2 -- restricting outdoor watering to three days per week, 15 minutes per day, and only from 5 p.m. to 9 a.m.

Council members dropped these stage 2 restrictions in June 2016 after substantial rainfall had partially washed away the state's severe drought.

After 2016 and early 2017 brought record-breaking precipitation to California, the city's conservation staff agreed that it was time to rescind the last of the restrictions. Mountain View's largest water provider, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, also called off its system-wide conservation requirement, according to Elizabeth Flegel, the city's water conservation coordinator.

The State Water Resources Control Board, a statewide agency in charge of California's water use policies, is still finalizing requirements that would essentially replace mandatory water restrictions with permanent prohibitions on water-wasting activities -- a move aimed at making conservation the new normal. Councilwoman Pat Showalter said she agreed with the state's message, given the unpredictability of climate change and the potential loss of snowpack in the Sierra Nevada.

"I think it's a really good message," Showalter said. "We do know with climate change that our weather is going to be more variable, and that means we're going to have more drought years and more heavy water years."

During the worst of the drought, Mountain View residents and businesses outperformed several Santa Clara County cities, conserving an estimated 2.8 billion gallons of water since Gov. Brown announced the state-wide drought in 2014, according to city staff. Mountain View reduced its water use by 13 percent in 2014 compared to 2013, followed by 28 percent in 2015 and 29 percent in 2016.

Getting rid of the last of the drought restrictions is expected to offer "relief" to the city's water customers who had, up until now, been conserving water. Rescinding the stage 1 water shortage is also expected to increase water use, which would bring more revenue to the city's water fund, according to a staff report.

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