The Pleasanton City Council Tuesday voted 4-0 to require all households and businesses in the city to reduce water consumption by 25% over their 2013 usage or face costly penalties if they fail to comply.
In declaring a Stage 3 drought alert, the council agreed with recommendations by Daniel Smith, director of the city's Operations Services, that stronger and mandatory water conservation rules had to be imposed because of a rapid draw-down in city water supplies.
Smith and the council had urged residents and businesses to voluntarily reduce consumption by 20% in February, but that didn't happen.
"In fact," Smith told the council, "water usage from this same period compared with 2013 actually shows a 9.1% increase in water usage in 2014."
Zone 7, which supplies much of the potable water Pleasanton uses, has already advised the cities it serves to expect a 25% reduction for all of 2014 compared to actual production last year.
The 25% reduction is expected to hit larger families the hardest as well as those with swimming pools that will still need to be topped off during the hot summer months to maintain adequate levels and water safety. Smith said pools can still be topped off, but only if they are covered during the day to prevent evaporation in the summer's heat. Those planning to build new pools or drain and refill their pools must wait until the water crisis ends, Smith said.
Effective immediately, all lawn and landscape irrigation is limited to no more than two days per week and is prohibited from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Outdoor watering that results in water runoff also is banned, as will the hosing down of driveways, sidewalks, or other hardscape.
Smith said customers should try for at least 40% reduction in outdoor watering to help them meet the overall 25% cutback target. His staff will help anyone who needs advice on how to adjust automatic sprinkler systems to meet these cutback requirements.
As for large families, especially those whose size has increased since a year ago, and for new homeowners where there's no history of water use, Smith's department will consider adjustments in the required reductions in consumption.
Also, responding to several speakers at the council meeting, Smith said those who have earnestly conserved water consumption on a regular basis and have low consumption rates to prove it, will not have to cut their usage farther. But they will have to contact Smith and his water department to receive a waiver.
It's the heavy users Smith is targeting, especially those who use hundreds of gallons potable drinking water to irrigate large lawns.
In response to criticism that the city is continuing to irrigate its parks roadway medians and the Callippe Preserve Golf Course while asking households and businesses to conserve, Smith said municipal irrigation was cut back by 20% in February and by reduced to no more than 40% of last year's levels. Sprinklers also are timed to work only at night.
Pleasanton also is moving rapidly to add to its recycling water system, which is now in place in Staples Ranch. The start of Phase One of a $14.8-million system to serve Hacienda, Sports Park, Callippe and other parks and open space is awaiting environmental review now along with an application for a 1% interest, 30-year loan from the state to buy and install the pipes. They will be connected to a recycling system already in place at the Dublin San Ramon Services District treatment plant at I-680 and Stoneridge Drive.
Although the use of recycled water for public lands will reduce the use of potable drinking water, it won't be widely available for another year and even then, won't solve Pleasanton's water shortage if the statewide drought continues. Even a 25% cut in consumption over last year's levels may not be enough, with one speaker at Tuesday night's council meeting suggesting that Zone 7' forecast may require going to a 40% cut.
Smith said the although the effective date of the 25% cutback was May 7, no one will be back charged for any consumption prior to that. Which means that starting May 7, customers' bills will start with a "clean slate" in comparing usage to last year's consumption records.
There are eight different billing cycles in the city depending on where customers live. Smith said his department will basically calculate the comparisons and show them on each customer's next full billing cycle.
He urged residents to carefully check their water bills, which they receive every two months. Water units used are shown on the statement, with every unit equaling 748 gallons. If the bill shows 15 units used, that means the customer has consumed 11,220 gallons.
Smith said that over the two-month billing period, most household use about 187 gallons a day. Reducing that amount by 25% will mean cutting back to 140 gallons a day.
The 25% reduction will be tabulated based on the same water billing period in 2013, since usage drops considerably in the winter months when few homeowners irrigate their yards. Customers who fail to meet the 25% mandatory cutback will be charged an additional $4 per unit of water used above that amount and fined $50.
For a second offense, the extra unit charge goes to $8 with a $100 penalty; a third time will cost $12 a unit and a $250 penalty; a fourth violation will raise the unit cost to $12 with a $500 penalty.
"We're hoping not to have to penalize any customer," Smith told the council. "Anyone who has already been carefully curbing their consumption can contact us for a review and we'll waive any penalty. Obviously, someone who has been using very little water all along deserves our praise, not a penalty."
Asked about new high-density housing projects already approved or under consideration in Pleasanton that will add to the city's water consumption problems, City Manager Nelson Fialho said only a few of those are actually scheduled to be built this year or next, and most won't be under construction for several years to come. He added that those apartments were approved to meet court-ordered requirements that Pleasanton add to its multiple family housing stock.
Information about water saving strategies is available at www.pleasantonwaterconservation.com/ and by calling the city's Water Conservation Hotline at (925) 931-5504.