Viewpoint - January 20, 2010

Letter: Use rates to ration water for landscaping

Water is a big issue in California and it will soon be a constant and possibly tense issue in this state, so I agree we need to take this seriously; the question for the Menlo Park City Council is how to address it within town jurisdiction. Compared with flatly outlawing what many people want — a lawn larger than a typical driveway — economic incentives to conserve are a much better idea.

If you look at a residential PG&E electric bill you will see the power billed after the first 378 kilowatts gets increasingly expensive — nearly four-fold at the top tier, which really gets a user's attention. Given that what the council is considering would apply to new landscaping in a town already built out, phasing in tiered water rates would capture far more users, and not create criminals of future residents who might feel strongly about what most neighbors have, or discouraging owners who want to and should upgrade an old irrigation system or replace highly inefficient hand watering. (Those who insist on irrigating huge lawns will meanwhile pay toward the much needed water system upgrades.)

The state has mandated action that will reduce landscape water use and provided a template that looks reasonable — and Menlo should adopt it — but some council members are trying to go it one better and make a statement. If we want to show leadership on water use, let's get the conversation going with CalWater and the public utilities commission, because tiered rates can make a much bigger difference than criminalizing local landscape projects.

Henry Riggs

Callie Lane, Menlo Park


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