Almanac

News - March 17, 2010

Water conservation mandates come to Portola Valley

• New rules for Woodside are ahead.

by Dave Boyce

The El Nino effect — unusually warm temperatures in the equatorial waters of the Pacific Ocean — is soaking the Bay Area with rain. The snow pack in the mountains is 107 percent of normal, according to the state Department of Water Resources.

Not the perfect setting for the Town Council of Portola Valley to be passing ordinances regulating how much water can be used inside and outside certain homes, as happened on Feb. 24, but then the council had little choice.

The setting that really matters is a three-year drought, new statewide water conservation mandates, and Gov. Schwarzenegger's initiative to cut water use by 20 percent by 2020. Since Jan. 1, every city and town in the state has had to establish water-use ordinances using either the state's model or one of local design, provided it is as tough or tougher than the state's.

Also having an impact is an October 2008 decision by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission to cap Bay Area water supplies at current levels until at least 2018. At current usage levels, the Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency (BAWSCA), which serves Portola Valley, Woodside, Menlo Park and Atherton, estimates that regional demand for water will exceed supply by 2015. Conservation is thus not an option.

Portola Valley's ordinance is based on a model prepared by BAWSCA and stakeholders from San Mateo, Santa Clara and Alameda counties, where it is in wide use.

Residents of Portola Valley are already living by the ordinance, according to a staff report by Planning Manager Leslie Lambert and Brandi DeGarmeaux, who coordinates environmental issues for the town. The ordinance also has the support of local water suppliers.

Woodside's Town Council is likely to see the BAWSCA ordinance for outdoor irrigation in 30 to 60 days, with indoor rules coming later, Town Manager Susan George said on March 9.

In her staff report, Ms. George noted that BAWSCA's approach is complicated but less so than the state's, and that a similarity of rules from town to town would be welcomed by regional professionals such as landscape architects.

New standards

Portola Valley's ordinances, adopted by unanimous vote, are intended to cut outdoor water use by 25 percent and indoor use by 20 percent, the report said.

The outdoor ordinance applies to homes with landscaping of more than 1,000 square feet, whether it's new construction or an existing home with landscaping to be "rehabilitated" such that a building permit or new or expanded water service is required, the report said.

For such homes, under the ordinance, lawns cannot exceed 25 percent of the landscaped area and cannot exceed 1,000 square feet without a watering plan.

Of the non-lawn parts, 80 percent must contain native or drought-resistant plants. Gardens larger than 1,000 square feet need a watering plan.

Landscaping greater than 2,500 square feet should have a separate water meter, and must have a separate meter if greater than 5,000 square feet, the report said. These homeowners must also employ professionals to design the landscape and audit water use.

The indoor standards apply to new construction, remodels that require a building permit, and all remodeled bathrooms and kitchens, the report said.

The indoor rules are meant to meet or exceed changes coming to the state's plumbing and green-building codes, the report said. Generally, the standards require appliances verified to be energy efficient, such as those labeled EnergyStar.

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