Woodside's residential water consumption in 2013 was 421 gallons per person per day, compared with 305 gallons in Portola Valley. In 2012, the numbers were 377 gallons for Woodside and 283 for Portola Valley.
Figures were not available for Atherton or Menlo Park. Cal Water releases data only to city or town officials, and only upon request, said spokeswoman Dawn Smithson. Woodside and Portola Valley requested the data.
The Bay Area average for 2013 was 79 gallons per person per day, according to the Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency.
This drought officially began in January 2014, but exceptionally dry weather has been a concern to state officials since 2012, according to the Department of Water Resources.
Water use is higher outside a house than inside, and residential irrigation tends to rise during a drought, Ms. Smithson told the Portola Valley Town Council recently. The typical outside-to-inside ratio is 60-40 percent, but the ratio was 70-30 in the Bear Gulch district for 2013, Ms. Smithson said.
The Bear Gulch district consists of Atherton, Portola Valley, most of Woodside and parts of Menlo Park. Overall usage for 2013 was double that of the Cal Water district serving San Mateo and triple of that serving South San Francisco, Ms. Smithson said.
Portola Valley officials learned of the town's 2013 number amid a multi-faceted effort, begun in March, to galvanize the community to conserve water. The Woodside council, by contrast, approved a resolution in January in recognition of statewide water conservation efforts.
A big leak?
"I think we, as residents, should be embarrassed and ashamed as water users," Woodside Councilman Ron Romines said at the July 8 Town Council meeting.
Mr. Romines was responding to a presentation by Woodside resident Debbie Mendelson, a member of the Sustainability and Conservation Committee. Ms. Mendelson outlined months of assiduous work behind the committee's recommendation to initiate a water conservation program.
She added, with some heat, that she expected a commitment from the council. "How do we have a town of 5,000 people using 421 gallons a day?" she asked. "I hope there's a big leak."
Mayor Dave Burow responded: "Do we want to have a water conservation program? I think the answer is yes," he said. "The devil is in the details. ... The program would have to be embraced by the community and not just the council."
Perhaps a study session, Mr. Romines suggested. Perhaps more than one study session, said Councilman Peter Mason. "There's a lot of concern by a lot of people who want to save water," said Councilman Dave Tanner, after noting that Woodside is populated with large parcels.
The Portola Valley council, by contrast, has acted, Ms. Mendelson said. "It's up to the (Woodside) Town Council," she said. "You've been elected to lead the community. You shouldn't have to take a poll."
"I think we definitely need to take some leadership on this and not just frame the question," Mr. Romines said.
Ms. Mendelson visited the Portola Valley council chambers the following night, July 9, when that Town Council heard two presentations on water conservation: from the California Water Service Company, and from a town task force that has been devising strategies to engage the community on the issue.
"We're very troubled," Portola Valley Mayor Ann Wengert said, noting the new statistic and a continuing trend. "Unfortunately we're going in the wrong direction, but that increases the urgency," she added after the council approved a $3,400 budget for the task force.
The Cal Water presentation included statistics and conservation goals. On the higher use of water outdoors, Bear Gulch district manager Smithson added: "There's a lot of play in this area. A lot of this use isn't necessary to sustain human life."
Conservation will remain a priority in that Cal Water plans for future residential developments, she said. "We're really needing to find reliable sources of water. We're not ever going to have a need for less water," she said. "It's kind of nice to get people thinking about this."
Bear Gulch purchases 85 percent to 95 percent of its water from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, with the rest supplied by surface runoff, according to BAWSCA. Reservoirs serving Bear Gulch are in "good shape," Ms. Smithson said, but "conservation is really important in making that last."
What can be done? Cities can enact ordinances and penalties, including watering restrictions and fines, Ms. Smithson told the Almanac. For now, the focus is on education, but, she added, "if a city or town we serve enacts an ordinance to promote water conservation we would, in turn, support their efforts."
Ms. Wengert told the Almanac that she would not speculate on council action at this point, and deferred to the task force. Among its recommendations: raising the consciousness of gardeners on conserving water. If the town engages the landscape contractors who hire them, there's a better chance of getting the gardeners' attention, Councilman Craig Hughes said.
Redwood City partnered with Acterra of Palo Alto in a bilingual water conservation workshop for gardeners that included a certificate for attending, said Councilwoman Maryann Moise Derwin. "It was very, very meaningful for the gardeners," she said.