Pleasanton residents and businesses will now be required to cut their potable water usage by 15% compared to last year, after the City Council unanimously declared a local drought emergency and water shortage, along with imposing the water reduction mandate on Tuesday night.
City officials cited a second consecutive year of dry conditions and low reservoir levels for making the move, as well as an unsuccessful public outreach campaign earlier this year that asked residents to voluntarily reduce their water use.
"I'm glad to see this and be able to make this motion," Councilmember Kathy Narum said before voting on the resolution, which she called "better late than never."
During the previous drought last decade, "our residents really rose to the occasion and did the conservation," Narum said. "I hope they will do that again for us ... I hope that others will do the same so that we exceed the 15%."
Councilmember Jack Balch shared similar views with Narum that evening and said, "We need to learn to adapt to a 15% reduction now so that when we're looking at this as we approach the summer of next year, we're ready. Conservation is a way of life, we say it and mean it."
Pleasanton is the latest Tri-Valley city to require water customers to reduce their water consumption; last week Livermore also confirmed a 15% mandatory water use reduction for its residents and businesses.
"It's easy to support this because it's basically the right thing to do," Mayor Karla Brown said. "I was surprised at the staff report where it said Lake Oroville, one of our main water supplies, is at the lowest level in history." As of Sept. 17, storage levels in Lake Oroville are at 22%, the lowest ever recorded for the reservoir.
Because most of the Tri-Valley gets its imported water from the State Water Project via the Zone 7 Water Agency, staff said "it is reasonable and appropriate to conclude that there is uncertainty in next year's water supply," and advised that "water saved this year will help protect water supplies for next year."
According to the report, Tri-Valley communities achieved about a 7% reduction in water use for the month of July, with monthly water production comparisons between this year and 2020 showing the water reduction target falling short of meeting a 15% reduction.
During summer, Gov. Gavin Newsom also issued an expanded drought emergency proclamation that asked Californians to voluntarily cut their water use by 15%, compared to their use last year.
Failure to reach that goal locally prompted the Zone 7 to declare a drought emergency within its service area last month, along with a Stage 2 water shortage which includes mandatory conservation measures from their retailers of 15% compared to last year.
Under Stage 2, residents are limited to irrigating just once a week from October to March.
Vice Mayor Julie Testa noted that city parks were watered twice a week during the last drought, and said weekly waterings this time seem "severe" and not "realistic."
"We want to conserve but we also want our community to be maintained," Testa said. "We don't want just completely brown and destroyed neighborhoods, so is that realistic -- and are we only going to water our parks once a week?"
Kathleen Yurchak, city director of operations and water utilities, said it is a requirement while in a Stage 2 water shortage, and that "it is a challenge for us, we've got 46 parks" throughout Pleasanton.
Drought rates or excessive use penalties were not recommended at this time; City Manager Nelson Fialho called the ordinance "lower case mandatory conservation," and said "it's really important that we start signaling to our community going into the winter that conservation is really important."
"We have an ordinance we're adopting that is not going to result in any fines or any punitive action," Fialho said. "We're going to market to the community as best we can that conservation is really important."
During public comment, resident Diana Mendenhall said she supports the mandate, "but I also want to address the fact I don't think it's fair to those of us who have continued to save during the last drought."
Mendenhall described the steps she and her husband have taken to save water, including removing their front lawn and replacing it with wood chips and native landscaping, watering their birch tree every week with a drip irrigation, and using other systems to catch and repurpose other water in their home.
"We can't save any more water than what we're doing right now," Mendenhall said. "I know you're not fining people, but it's pretty frustrating that we have gone to such an effort to save water and we can't do anything else. So don't ever start fining people that can't do anything more."
Earlier in the meeting, Councilmember Valerie Arkin asked if a resident's "usage has decreased over the past several years, how would we go about looking at a particular resident like that, that has been conserving, as opposed to others that haven't?"
Yurchak replied, "Since the city's moved to the automated meter system, we have the ability to see customers' water usage and when they're using water, and we can make recommendations based off of that. They may have a leak, and that's something that we can see in that."
While staff evaluates potential drought rates and considers higher rebate offers to residents for converting their front yards to drought-tolerant landscaping, as well as including backyard lawn conversions, more targeted outreach will also be done with businesses that use more water.
"There is a group of residents that have fully embraced compliance to reduce their overall water usage," Balch said. "Maybe staff can be creative in how they look at structuring anything so that that can be acknowledged and those are not the people we're targeting. They've done a Herculean effort and we want the whole community to move forward with that."