Keep saving, says water czar Smith as he heads into retirement

Career in public water management spans 27 years

Daniel Smith, who has worked in the city's Operations Services Department for 15 years, including the last eight as its director, said goodbye in remarks to the Rotary Club of Pleasanton as he heads into retirement next week.

His department, one of the city's largest, is responsible for water usage, streets, parks and utilities planning, engineering and billing with a staff of 100 people.

The Pleasanton Weekly coined the term "water czar" to describe Smith since that's his area of expertise and because he is the City Council's key adviser on water issues. The description stuck.

It's a task that has gained major importance as the city copes with an ongoing drought that has made water a major concern for city, civic and business leaders and Pleasanton's 72,000 residents.

Smith was well-honed for the job with skills developed here and during the 12 years he spent previously with the city of San Diego in its Water and Wastewater Department, where he was directly involved with that city's advanced water re-purification systems from wastewater to potable water.

He also worked with the city's Committee on Energy & the Environment, which has a goal of making Pleasanton the "greenest" city in California -- although Smith is quick to explain that means environmentally green, not the lawns outside our homes.

Smith's "good news/bad news" remarks had him quipping that he didn't start the drought when he took over the water department eight years ago, as some critics suggested, and that his retirement probably won't end it.

Nevertheless, it' was his strategic work in preparing Pleasanton for the lean water years the city has been facing that made him a recognized municipal leader in a state that he said is still woefully behind in handling the troubled water shortages.

Pleasanton was the state's first city to mandate water conservation with a penalty plan for those who failed to conserve instead of raising rates to slow down consumption.

The City Council approved his plan to order a 25% cutback last year and 97% of residents complied, cutting back on month-to-month consumption by 30 and 40% over the previous year, and also saving that same percentage on 2014 water bills.

That mandate is continuing, still based on 2013 billings.

Gov. Jerry Brown's order to curb water usage by 20% across the state has helped, though no other city has yet to achieve a near 50% cutback as Pleasanton is achieving this summer. The drawback, however, is that cutback also amounts to 50% in less revenue for the water department, which Smith said may prove to be too little for the ratepayer-supported utility division to meet its costs.

The council is studying the impact and will decide in October if water fees should be raised.

Current mandated water usage cutbacks will remain in place through January, Smith said, to see if the coming winter brings more snow in the mountains. It's the snowpack that counts, he explained, not rain which flows off into the ocean.

The snowpack fills Lake Oroville, where Pleasanton -- through its water wholesaler, Zone 7 -- gets much of its drinking water. The rest comes from groundwater "which the city has been withdrawing from its basin for four years without having enough rain to replenish it.

"We've used up our savings account, and we are now into our retirement account," Smith told the Rotarians.

The good news is that work starts next week on an $18 million project to install special underground purple pipes to carry recycled water from the Dublin San Ramon Services District (DSRSD), with the first pipes to be ready for serving irrigation systems later next year in Hacienda, the Ken Mercer Sports Park and several other parks and street medians.

Recycled water already is being trucked in for irrigation at Callippe Preserve Golf Course. The city is also buying recycled water from Livermore to irrigate parkland along the eastern stretch of Stoneridge Drive.

Smith said many homeowners are filling up large containers on their pickup trucks with free recycled water from DSRSD centers to irrigate their lawns and plants, posting signs to let neighbors know that they use recycled water.

Together, recycled water and continued conservation should get the city through the year and possibly next year. But then all bets are off what comes next, he added.

Not Smith's problem. He's bought a retirement home in the Sierra, but he didn't give Rotarians an address.

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5 people like this
Posted by I conserve
a resident of Pleasanton Heights
on Aug 27, 2015 at 7:54 am

Why are there no brown yards in Ruby Hill? They don't care about conserving, they just pay the fines.

Fines don't work. When a household fails to cut back by the required amount the water needs to be shut off. Period.

3 people like this
Posted by I conserve 2
a resident of Ruby Hill
on Aug 27, 2015 at 8:51 am

To Pleasanton Heights, I don't appreciate your comment about Ruby Hill residents. I am a resident of Ruby Hill and I have been doing my part of conserving water. My lawn is somewhat green because we haul the water from the water plant. Are you one of those jealous people wishing they too could live in Ruby Hill? Mind your own beeswax.........

2 people like this
Posted by green is ok
a resident of Val Vista
on Aug 27, 2015 at 9:21 am

It is hard to tell what a homes water use is by only looking at a lawn. My lawn is very green, but I have conserved 30% minimum for the past 2 years.

Unless you are taking meter readings and comparing them to previous usage history, you don't know.

3 people like this
Posted by I conserve 3
a resident of Ruby Hill
on Aug 27, 2015 at 10:56 am

"I conserve": perhaps you should take a tour around Ruby Hill these days and then you would have some factual information to sound off about. Many, many lawns have been abandoned and gone brown and the majority are a patchwork of dirt, dried areas,and some green. The common areas have also cut back over 30% and supplement with a recycled water truck 2X/week to help keep them alive during the drought. The golf course is also back over 30% with excellent course management to cut back on water in the native areas and non critical ones.

As for myself: my water bill has been cut over 30%, and while I cut back heavily on landscape watering I am also supplementing it with 3X/week recycled water supplements. Kudos to the recycling plant and their work on this to make it easily available. Many RH residents are taking advantage of the recycled water (based on the number of trucks with watering rigs in driveways) and keeping their lawns in decent shape. My lawn's half green and that's fine by me.

So let's deal in facts, focus on developing creative ways to save even more, and stop the uninformed responses.

Like this comment
Posted by Mr. Smith
a resident of Ruby Hill
on Aug 27, 2015 at 2:14 pm

I hope to use all the available water soon and my grass is green. That will force change for sure and accelerate needed infrastructure changes like catching runoff, adding perc ponds, etc.

2 people like this
Posted by I conserve
a resident of Pleasanton Heights
on Aug 27, 2015 at 3:35 pm

" Are you one of those jealous people wishing they too could live in Ruby Hill? Mind your own beeswax........."

Too funny. I owned two homes in Ruby Hill and sold both because I could not tolerate the snootiness. I now own here in another neighborhood and use the house about 2-3 days per month. My real homes are in two other states, all paid for in cash, so get off your pedestal thinking that Ruby Hill is the pinnacle of home ownership. Many of use who can afford expensive homes would never consider living in a neighborhood where money is the only way to determine the worth of an individual. A neighborhood where a mother will sit in the driveway collecting entrance fees for underage kids to get drunk at her home with her high school kids.

Take a look at the entry road into your little kingdom. No dying flowers there, just water running down the gutters. Not a drop of drinking water should ever be allowed on landscaping. So you cut back 30%? Big deal, if you are still wasting water on outdoor landscaping then you should be cut off.

1 person likes this
Posted by Patriot
a resident of Birdland
on Aug 27, 2015 at 3:49 pm

Culprit is city council that will built 50 new big moratorium on growth while available drinking water shrinks!

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