South Bay officials consider 30 percent water conservation goal

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ByDavid Louie KGO logo
Wednesday, March 25, 2015
South Bay officials consider 30% water conservation goal
The Santa Clara Valley Water District says it is considering raising the conservation goal from 20 to 30 percent because supplies will reach the critical stage by the end of the year.

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- New water restrictions may be coming to the South Bay, where supplies could reach the critical stage by the end of the year. An important vote is being taken there Tuesday night that would raise the conservation goal from 20 to 30 percent.

It's going to take more than short showers to meet the district's new goal. It could mean spending thousands of dollars to tear out lawns. The $500 a day fine for non-compliance could be a big motivator.

Green lawns may be the next casualty of the drought. Customers are saving only 13 percent by taking shorter showers and turning off the water as they brush their teeth.

"So, I don't know what else to do," said San Jose resident Margaret Partain. "I run my dishwasher every six days."

Taking out lawns and replacing them with drought-resistant plants could help. One homeowner in San Jose's Willow Glen District will more than exceed the 30 percent goal after taking out 50 percent of the lawn in front and 70 percent in back. The water saving is substantial.

"It's definitely about 60 percent, 50 to 60 percent saving compared to the previous way this house was set up," said Paul Vander with Vander Landscape. When asked if this means they have to take out all the lawn he answered, "No, they don't have to. You can get creative and still have some lawn. You can get drought-resistant lawn so it requires less water."

The tougher use restriction is being set by the Valley Water District, which is the wholesaler that supplies water to local water companies. San Jose Water, which serves an estimated 8 in 10 homes in San Jose, says it's ready to embrace the 30 percent reduction. It will use social media and other means to spread the word. It won't wait to put notices in water bills, which are sent out only every other month.

"Thirty percent is quite a call, and I think the water district is one of the first to make that a target," said Kyle Larson, and analyst with Santa Clara County. "I think it's important to bring recognition to the importance the water conditions that we're currently facing."

San Jose Water says it will avoid the word mandatory, hoping customers will embrace the goal. The state water board has authorized a $500 per day fine for water waste. San Jose Water will turn to local police to issue fines.

In the meantime, East Bay residents will have to cut back or pay up.

On Tuesday, the East Bay Municipal Utility District went over its budget for the next two years, which already includes a 7 percent rate increase to fix aging pipes.

But if they declare a Stage 4 Drought Emergency, it will also add a 25 percent surcharge. It's to buy and treat water from the Sacramento River and avoid extreme water use cutbacks.

"We're looking this year at cutbacks of 15 or 20 percent perhaps," said EBMUD spokesperson Abby Figueroa. "But that is a lot more reasonable that having to ask folks to cut back more than a third of their water use.>

The surcharge could increase utility bills by about eleven-dollars for most customers.

But heavy water users could see their bills jump by $118. A decision is expected in June.

Drought tips

One of the easiest ways to reduce water use is to simply turn off the faucet while you brush your teeth. Doing so will save two gallons per minute. Also, each minute you cut from your shower saves 2.5 gallons. And if you install aerators on all your bathroom and kitchen faucets, you'll reduce household water usage by about four percent.

For full coverage on the drought, click here.