Keep your bill down with these water conservation tips

Anyone who gets their water from Hetch Hetchy will see their rates go up. Those are customers primarily in San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara and Alameda counties. But just because your rates go up, it doesn't mean you have to pay more for your water.

Julie Montanari is passionate about her garden. The master gardener is also just as passionate about saving water. In fact, her San Mateo home will be featured in a Water-Wise garden tour in June.

"We're currently using less than a quarter of the water we were initially using in this garden maybe six years ago," said Montanari. "So our water bill has dropped dramatically."

Those water savings will come in handy because Montanari's rates will be going up to pay for $4.6 billion in seismic upgrades to the water system. The rate increase will also cover a decline in water usage caused by this year's heavy rains, high unemployment and water conservation efforts.

Despite that, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission says conservation programs will continue.

"There's going to be another drought at some point. This readies our customers and our wholesale customers to be where we need to be to make sure that we have a sustainable water supply," said PUC Chief Financial Officer Todd Rydstrom.

San Francisco residents can receive a free money-saving water audit at their home and also get free water saving gadgets including an aerator. Many water districts have similar programs.

"A standard faucet aerator is about 2.2 gallons per minute," said PUC water conservation inspector Sue Tensfeldt. "So you see water savings just by swapping out your faucet aerator."

You can also get blue dye tablets which you can drop into your toilet tank. If your bowl turns blue, you have a leak and can get a free flapper and fill valve to fix failing parts. Free high-efficiency shower heads are also available from the San Francisco PUC.

Your garden can also be a place where water is wasted. Montanari uses a $10 moisture sensor to minimize that waste.

"So you can take this, stick it five inches, six inches down into the soil and this will tell you whether it's really time to water or not," said Montanari.

Other ideas include covering your garden with mulch two to three inches deep to retain water in the ground, avoiding sprinklers that shoot high into the air, and using a drip irrigation system to apply water exactly where you need it.

"Any water that's going up into the air is lost," said Montanari. "It's waste."

For a free Water-Wise evaluation, call (415) 551-4730 or visit To find out about the free garden tour, visit

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