Pleasanton deals with the drought

City's water czar discusses local, state water reduction efforts

In a recent interview, Pleasanton's operations services director and the city's water czar Daniel Smith talked in-depth about what the city and its residents can do to continue saving more water, in light of a possibly longer drought and the new water reductions.

Amid the state's ongoing drought, Gov. Jerry Brown announced April 1 an executive order for mandatory statewide water-use reductions, the first-ever order of its kind in California's history.

Brown directed the State Water Resources Control Board to implement mandatory 25% reductions in water usage by California cities and towns through February 2016.

The Pleasanton City Council had already instituted a mandatory 25% water restriction last May.

"There's something people didn't hear enough of last year which was the city, the businesses and the residents all came together. We want to make sure everybody knows that was an outstanding job and we really appreciate what they did," said Daniel Smith, Pleasanton's operations services director and the city's water czar.

What has Pleasanton been doing to cope with the drought?

Smith: "Last year we were actually in the same situation as what the governor is calling for now. Last spring, the council already established a local emergency stage 3 which was 25% reduction over 2013, which is the benchmark year.

The good news is, this year is not any different than last year because the governor is now calling for all of California to follow those rules and not just the Tri-Valley.

There is a nuance there that I want you to be aware of. It's actually on a sliding scale. It's anywhere from 10% to 35%, and that's a nuance that most people don't understand.

The reason is that everybody's situation is a little bit different. What they're basing the cutbacks on is what we call gallons per capita per day, or how much water does a person in your city use. Let's take for example the cutback for San Francisco, it's only 10%. The reason is they only use 50 gallons per person a day. Pleasanton's cutback order is 25% because we use 113 gallons per day. So the average is 25% but it could be anywhere from 10% to 35%."

Moving forward, are there any changes that Pleasanton is doing to save water? Or are we continuing the same efforts?

"The good news is that 99% of it is the same as what we did last year because most of the prohibitions we had in place are exactly what the governor did for his declaration. There are some minor differences.

Restaurants, last year, were asked not to serve water unless people ask for it. This year, the governor has mandated not to supply water period unless it's requested. Small difference but it is a difference. He's now asked hotels and motels, this year, to allow people to request not having their towels and sheets changed every day. Most of what is being done for the general public is the same.

Another minor difference in his ordinance, which we'll be changing ours to match, is that you cannot irrigate outside within 48 hours of precipitation. If it rains and you irrigate the next day, you could receive a citation for that based on the state mandates."

In relation to the new mandates for businesses, is Pleasanton in charge of enforcing those mandates?

"This year, the state's mandating us to do it so that we can mandate you to do it. The enforcement tool they have with us is that they can fine us for violating those prohibitions."

How do you handle a restaurant or business not following the prohibitions?

"We would give them a warning like we always do and collaborate with them to get them to do it. But if they refuse to do it, they could receive a citation or a penalty for that."

How much is that citation?

"Our penalties are in place already. Those were in the ordinance last year, if you didn't save 25% there was a penalty structure for that, and it's the same as it was last year. The citation amount is the same too. It starts at $50 and can go up to $500, depending upon the number of infractions that you had."

What can residents do to get through this drought and save water?

"Pretty much the same thing as we did last year.

You have two types of water use, indoor consumption and outdoor consumption. Of course indoor consumption, in most cases, is a pretty hard number ... and what we mean by that is you could only save so much water inside. We want you to save as much as you can inside.

If you have appliances that are not up to the most water-efficient standard, there are rebates locally for replacing those. There's also a new state program, which we don't have details on yet for this drought declaration, where there are going to be more rebates available.

The big savings you're going to get is outdoors ... not over-irrigating or, in some cases, not irrigating. If you need to make a choice whether you have water inside your house or outside your house, it's very simple. I know there are people attached to their landscaping but it's something that has to change.

There are also current rebate programs for getting rid of your turf, or the grass out front, which is the big water use. The governor is going to add some incentives so you can receive rebates for taking some of your lawn out. If you decide to do that, it's important to remember there are requirements you have to meet for that. Don't just do it. Come to us and we'll help you understand the requirements, and we'll make sure you qualify for the rebate."

Are golf courses using recycled water for irrigation?

"Some golf courses are on recycled water. Callippe's golf course uses potable water and recycled water because last year we started trucking recycled water from the plant down there. We're going to do that again this year. We tell people to cut back 25%, we have to do the same thing. But that is a very important asset for the city, so it's worth it for us to truck recycled water down there. We pay for that with the money we saved on the potable water that we don't buy.

Ruby Hill Golf Course does not belong to the city, but they do not reuse recycled water. They'll be required like everybody else to cut back 25% this year. Golf courses were exempt in the past but in this new order, golf courses, cemeteries ... everybody's in this because there is simply not enough water."

What advice can you give to Pleasanton residents with pools?

"Pools are a big problem if they're not maintained properly. The first thing you need to do is cover your pool. There's an awful lot of evaporation that happens out of a pool, and anybody that has a pool knows that because they have an automatic fill on it. But if you turn that automatic fill off in the summertime when it's warm, you can watch the level of that pool drop every day.

That water you need to refill it with is a huge demand. When you put a cover on a pool, it takes care of over 90% of the evaporation.

If you have any leaks in your system, you need to fix that. There are also other restrictions on pools: you cannot drain them and clean them. The only reason you can drain a pool and refill it during this drought emergency is if you have a structural deficit that is detrimental to the pool where it's going to cause you to lose it."

Does Pleasanton have programs in place to help with leaks?

"There's some technical things people need to understand but also we're very customer-service oriented and we have a drought center. If you have a problem, you call us and we'll send someone over to your house to help you.

Once the water goes through your water meter, which is out at the front of your property, it's all your responsibility after that. The thing you can do is look at your water meter. If you look right in the center of that water meter, there's what's called a low-flow indicator and it's a little red triangle. If that's turning, you have water leaking somewhere if everything is shut off.

A good resident managing their property during the drought would help us out by looking at the low-flow indicator. If it's leaking and you can't identify, call us and we'll help you figure out what it is so you can fix it.

If you continue to let that leak and you go over the 25%, you can't use that for an excuse because you're required, within eight hours, to fix any leaks on your property. We had a lot of people doing that for us last year."

How are other cities in California doing with conservation?

"Everybody had to report to the state what they were doing. If you look at the Tri-Valley, we were tops in the state. There were other cities in that were running out of water that did great, yet some cities didn't save anything and even some that were over (25%). There's a real disparity and that's one of the reasons the governor got where he ended up at. We all need to be in this together."

How is the city of Pleasanton thinking long-term with the drought?

"Water sustainability and water diversity are key. One of the problems the Tri-Valley ran into this year, which everybody was aware of but the drought magnified, is we get all our water from the same place which is the State Water Project.

The SWP last year, for the first time ever in its 60-year history, gave us an allocation of 0%. We need to diversify our portfolio so that we're not planning on that one thing, which is what got us in the place that we're at.

Zone 7, our local water wholesaler, is in charge of that. We've been meeting with them on a series of water policy meetings over the last six months trying to figure out ways we can diversify our portfolio.

Recycled water is one, our council has approved the large recycled water project for Hacienda Business Park, it's phase one. We're in the final stages of preparation with the state and we're hoping to go into construction this summer. If we do it as a Tri-Valley, we are much more powerful because we can do more together than apart so we're trying to get a coalition to work together.

We have to be more efficient in the design of our outside landscaping, parks, houses, buildings, and maximize that use of water. If you look at the amount of water we're using, it's been going down. This drought just magnifies how we need to do a better job."

With the new housing developments around Pleasanton, how is that going to affect the water conservation goals?

"That's a hot button for everybody. They planned to build that three or four years ago when there was water and there are reasons you just can't stop them. Also, droughts ... you don't know how long they're going to last.

Do we need to build (housing) better? Yes. Is the state applying more and more restrictions to how you build them so they're efficient along with the city? Yes. You cannot stop building unless it's done statewide or area-wide, because if you stop building in one city, they're just going to build in another city.

Until our water wholesaler declares a moratorium on building because they can't provide water, the city, legally, is really not in a position to do that. We need to leverage all the things we can to design it and build it the best way we can."

Long-term, what mentality should Pleasanton residents have during the drought?

"This drought has really focused us back on what's important. The most important resource on earth is clean, fresh water. We need to look at how we manage that resource differently.

We need to recycle water and use it more than one time, that's why we're building a recycled water system. We need to manage the asset better. We need to realize we don't live on the East Coast where it rains all summer and you can have these big, beautiful lawns and landscaping. We live in a desert, these droughts come periodically and as climate change is happening, it's accelerating.

We have to use water wisely outside. We have to be more efficient in the way we use it indoors ... and all the things that we do because you see the problems that it causes us. It's causing problems in our economy because that water has to be used for growing food. If we use so much of it in the urban setting and landscaping and those luxuries, it's going to be a real problem.

Another thing that is an issue ... we not only have a global crisis for quantity but also quality. We use water to clean everything, from your paintbrush to your car to everything. We're using the most valuable resource there is, and we're polluting it by using it to clean everything that we do. We have to change the way we look at that."

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7 people like this
Posted by Kyrridwen
a resident of Birdland
on Apr 24, 2015 at 9:16 am

Considering the rather large impact of pools on water usage, why is the city allowing new pools to be put in? There is currently a brand new pool under construction on Longspur Way. What are these people thinking? And, more importantly, why did the city allow it??

17 people like this
Posted by Helen
a resident of Bonde Ranch
on Apr 24, 2015 at 10:26 am

They allowed it for the same reason they are allowing all the new housing on the East side! Money in the city's pocket. The price of permits and special use fees is high!
It's obvious this city council does not care about water usage, school crowding, traffic etc.
If they did there would be a HALT to any new building permits!

8 people like this
Posted by Pete
a resident of Downtown
on Apr 24, 2015 at 12:54 pm

This guy should be telling us what the rules and not telling us what we will and will not like. Who does this guy think he is? instead if these non understandable rules he should just tell us how much water we get per day or month and not how to use it. Typical lib government out of control.

Like this comment
Posted by Damon
a resident of Foothill Knolls
on Apr 24, 2015 at 2:01 pm

"Golf courses were exempt in the past but in this new order, golf courses, cemeteries ... everybody's in this because there is simply not enough water."

Well, everybody except those in California agriculture. They use up 80% of California's water.

1 person likes this
Posted by Pete
a resident of Downtown
on Apr 24, 2015 at 2:20 pm


Does not apply to Castlewood either.

By the way, has anyone received a copy of the drought rules in the mail or notification of any kind?

2 people like this
Posted by Victoria
a resident of Downtown
on Apr 24, 2015 at 2:32 pm

What is wrong with these people!!?! We have 100s of 1000s of gallons of artesean water flowing down Neal Street and going down the drain. It is a nuisance to most of the residents in the area and should be put to good use. The pH has been tested and it is more than safe and usable. The City of Pleasanton keep sending guys down to come and look at it, but never DO anything about utilizing this water. Someone needs to communicate to Zone 7 to wake up and smell the water roses on Neal Street in Pleasanton.

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Posted by cosmic-charlie
a resident of Downtown
on Apr 24, 2015 at 3:10 pm

California agriculture does indeed use 80% of the water...water that is not diverted for "environmental usage". In fact, 50% of all state resources of water collected are allocated for environmental usage.

The remaining 50% is distributed to agriculture [40%] and urban uses - you and me [10%]
Web Link

So, yes! Agricultural use is 80%...of the remaining 40% allocation. Just the facts...

2 people like this
Posted by highdiver
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Apr 24, 2015 at 5:22 pm

I can't find anywhere, except on my Utility bill that if you use less than 40 units in the bi-monthly billing period you are exempt from the surcharge. I couldn't find any mention of the under 40 unit Penalty Surcharge waiver in the Ordinance(City Ordinance 2104). Did I miss it? The Utility Bill uses the words, "For this statement", which means to me each statement may have another percent amount or no waiver at all.

Please oh please, can the Water Conservation Czar clarify this?

P.S. The number one water user in California is the Alfalfa grower and almost all the Alfalfa is sent to buyers out of state, can anything be done about this? Perhaps a ban on growing alfalfa during a drought.

2 people like this
Posted by Damon
a resident of Foothill Knolls
on Apr 24, 2015 at 5:49 pm

@cosmic-charlie: " In fact, 50% of all state resources of water collected are allocated for environmental usage. The remaining 50% is distributed to agriculture [40%] and urban uses - you and me [10%]...So, yes! Agricultural use is 80%...of the remaining 40% allocation. Just the facts..."

You're distorting the facts. Your own link says this: "More than half of California’s environmental water use occurs in rivers along the state’s north coast. These waters are largely isolated from major agricultural and urban areas and cannot be used for other purposes."

You seem to be trying to make it sound like all that "environmental usage" is water which is realistically available for use. Even a casual reading of the information given in the link shows that that's not so.

1 person likes this
Posted by Frank
a resident of Happy Valley
on Apr 24, 2015 at 6:23 pm

Agriculture use for things that we export!!!
We need to keep our water for those that live here!

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Posted by cosmic-charlie
a resident of Downtown
on Apr 24, 2015 at 7:19 pm

Thanks for that Damon, you are correct, and as am I.

My observation is of water that is collected. The north cost rivers are allowed to run wild, and don't figure into the human use category. Good thing in my book! Wouldn't be able to fish the Smith river in December otherwise.

When the resources are low like now, we tend to clamor for more storage capacity to smooth out the resource bumps. The only down side of more capacity would be more urban development. I am not sure that is even a good thing necessarily.

I would like to see a better political climate where real measures could be implemented...and, I don't have that expertise to define those things, I only know there is no political will to address them.

I am all in for more storage.

Gone fishin' ...leave a message!

2 people like this
Posted by kbenson
a resident of Bordeaux Estates
on Apr 24, 2015 at 8:07 pm

Have not watered front/back yard for over 2 weeks (i do use rinse water when possible, for vegetable plants)

Near by neighbors still out with hose tending to his/her front yards and a couple others washing cars.

Many think "i pay so i can use" Keep thinking that when nothing comes out of the faucet.

Like this comment
Posted by Bill
a resident of Pleasanton Heights
on Apr 25, 2015 at 12:12 am

The billing statement is the only place I've seen the 40 unit rule, but it is a logical place to inform us. Our usage went from 17 to 18 units, and we were not fined.

6 people like this
Posted by BobB
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Apr 25, 2015 at 8:07 am

This is such a made up, fake "crisis". Agriculture is using 80 per cent of the water in California, and is less 2 per cent of the economy. Let it go. Residents and businesses (except for farms) aren't the problem. We can all enjoy green lawns and gardens, long showers and clean cars. Stop grow almonds and the like in California, and are problems are solved.

2 people like this
Posted by BobB
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Apr 25, 2015 at 11:07 am

Unfortunately our governor will not reduce water to agriculture because illegals and migrant workers make up the new lib voting block and they would be put out of work. Related to our city, well they will not stop the building because a steady stream of tax revenue is needed to feed salaries or our cities government workers.

Like this comment
Posted by steve
a resident of Del Prado
on Apr 27, 2015 at 7:07 am

The city needs to utilize the same grey water i'm using to keep our vital parks usable. Come on city staff get creative !

use water trucks with grey water to pump into existing sprinkler systems,

The sports park for one is a vitial resource that should be kept alive.

Like this comment
Posted by BobB
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Apr 27, 2015 at 8:24 am

The above post was not by me.

4 people like this
Posted by We need tools
a resident of Laguna Oaks
on Apr 27, 2015 at 8:53 am

City of Pleasanton and the Water Czar are eager to penalize residents, but have not provided the tools to help residents conserve. The article was completely unhelpful to that regard.

Like this comment
Posted by Kathleen
a resident of Pleasanton Valley
on Apr 27, 2015 at 12:02 pm

Highdiver and Bill-
I just got off the phone with the city. The no surcharge under 40 units is for last year. She told me the new number is 30 units. I guess the city council has just approved or is going to approve this 30 unit number for this year.

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Posted by Pete
a resident of Downtown
on Apr 27, 2015 at 12:59 pm

Well one would expect that at some point very soon we will get the official rules in the mail and we will know what to do.

2 people like this
a resident of Birdland
on Apr 28, 2015 at 6:57 am

What we NEED to know is " how much can a family of 5 use to not be fined ? "
Answer that please. 25% reduction, even from usage 2 years ago isn't enough info. Considering some of us cut back water usage 4-5 years back. Furthermore,
LEAD BY EXAMPLE " CITY OF PLEASANTON " WE ALL HAVE INVESTMENTS WE SHOULD BE ABLE TO PROTECT. If we should be expected to loose our lawns, landscaping, pools ect. THAN SO SHOULD YOU !

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Posted by Pete
a resident of Downtown
on Apr 28, 2015 at 4:24 pm

Does anyone know if the rules and the penalties are the same in Dublin and Livermore as Pleasanton?

1 person likes this
Posted by Concerned
a resident of Mohr Park
on May 11, 2015 at 3:12 pm

The city continues to water the sports parks on Hopyard.

2 people like this
Posted by Damon
a resident of Foothill Knolls
on May 11, 2015 at 4:29 pm

Doesn't look as onerous as I first thought to satisfy this 25% reduction requirement with an exemption for those using less than 30 units of water over any two-month period. I looked at our water bill and we have been averaging about 16 units of water over every two-month period recently. In fact, I looked at our 2013 water bill and saw that we used less than 30 units over every two-month period in that year with the exception of one in the later summer where we barely exceeded it.

We have an average-sized Pleasanton house of about 1700 sq ft and a family of four and a small yard in front and back, and a good deal of the water in the summer months went to our sprinkler system but even so we were mostly below 30 units of water per every two months in 2013. Wondering why staying below 30 units should be a problem for most Pleasanton households. It's not like most of us have really big lawns to irrigate.

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Posted by Damon
a resident of Foothill Knolls
on May 11, 2015 at 4:38 pm

Also, BTW, a unit of water is about 748 gallons. 30 units of water over a two-month period works out to about 374 gallons of water per day. That sounds like a lot of water. Makes me wonder where all of it is going. Seems like a generous amount of water, especially during the late fall, winter, and early spring months when everyone's sprinklers should be off. 374 gallons of water is over 7 full bathtubs of water per day.

1 person likes this
Posted by Bill
a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on May 12, 2015 at 9:45 am

@Damon - try hauling 300 gallons of water from the treatment plant to put on your grass. Your lawn will soak it up faster then you can blink an eye. It takes about 1 unit of water to effectively water the lawn of an average home. Watering the lawn 2 times a week is about 18 units per billing period leaving you with 140 gallons a day for indoor use, if you do not want to go over 30 units. And watering twice a week is just barely going to keep your lawn alive during the hot months unless you supplement it with water from the treatment plant.
On another note the State Water Board released the conservation tiers for each water district. The City of Pleasanton has been assigned tier 6, which is a conservation requirement of 24% from the water used in 2013. The city should modify its requirement of 25% to be in line with the state's 24%. It may not seem much difference but that extra 1% could be worth almost one unit of water during the hot months.
The Livermore Valley has been doing an outstanding job in conserving water. With few exceptions the rest of the state has really sucked in conservation efforts.
Be aware that the billing periods for 2013 were all over the map. My billing periods for 2013 were:
Cycle 1 - 62 days
Cycle 2 - 55 days
Cycle 3 - 57 days
Cycle 4 - 71 days
Cycle 5 - 55 days
Cycle 6 - 65 days
So when you say you used so many gallons of water in certain billing period, you have to actually state how many gallons were used per day to make any sense of water usage.

Like this comment
Posted by Damon
a resident of Foothill Knolls
on May 12, 2015 at 12:15 pm


Of the one billing cycle in 2013 where we went over 30 units of water, we actually ended up using about 34 units of water. That was during the hottest part of the summer around August. Assuming that 16 units of that water was for internal household use (based on our usage during the winter months), that means that we used about 34-16=18 units of water for watering out lawn during that two-month period. So that agrees with your estimate, although I should add that since that was in 2013 we were watering our lawn every other day (about 3.5 times per week) or our 5500 sq. ft. lot.

One tip that I can offer for reducing water usage is to get water-saving appliances such as a modern dishwasher and a modern washing machine. We replaced our washing machine recently and I noticed that our last water bill was 2 units lower that it was during the same time period last year. Don't know whether that was a coincidence, but in looking at the clothes in the washer through the transparent window I noticed that the new machine uses only as much water as needed to wet the clothes rather than filling up to some pre-set level like our old washer. Clothes seem to get washed just fine and my wife has no complaints about the new washer. We do a lot of washing, so I wouldn't be surprised if the new washer is making a significant difference in our water usage.

Like this comment
Posted by Water
a resident of Fairlands Elementary School
on May 12, 2015 at 12:34 pm

Only used 10 units last billing cycle, looks like I can water lawn 3 to 4 days a week and stay below 30 units.

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Posted by Bill
a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on May 12, 2015 at 12:40 pm

Agree 100%. The purchase of a new high efficency impeller washing machine has saved us a ton of water versus our old style agitator model. We needed to purchase a new washing machine so this was a no brainer.

Like this comment
Posted by pleasanton was nice forty years ago
a resident of Del Prado
on May 15, 2015 at 9:55 am

Havent changed my water use for over forty years. Just got out of a 30 minute shower gonna go wash my four cars in the driveway. Question. How much water does an illegal immigrant use in a year? Question. How much water does a new apartment complex use in a year?

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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