Almanac

News - September 3, 2014

Menlo Park tightens water belt, adopts new restrictions for customers

by Sandy Brundage

New water restrictions took effect on Thursday, Aug. 28, for all customers of the Menlo Park Municipal Water District.

Complying with the state's mandate, the City Council voted during its Aug. 26 meeting to implement a plan that prohibits:

• Washing noncommercial vehicles unless the hose has an automatic shut-off valve or the washing is done at a facility that uses recirculated water.

• Filling new swimming pools.

• Running ornamental fountains unless the water is recirculated.

• Installing or expanding irrigation systems.

• Creating new water service connections without public works approval.

• Using potable water for dust control.

While the goal is to see a 30 percent reduction in water use as compared to the previous year, residents, as well as several council members, pointed out that requiring everyone to reduce water use by the same percentage could unfairly burden those who already conserve water.

"How are people who are already doing the best they can going to conserve even more?" asked one Louise Street resident.

But the city is also working on revising its water contingency shortage plan and may opt for phased reduction targets instead of a set percentage, according to the staff. The public will be notified of any changes, which would take effect in 90 days.

Penalties for violating the new regulations range from a warning on the first violation to fines of $50 to $500 and possible discontinuation of water service upon subsequent violations.

City Attorney Bill McClure said the emphasis will be on penalizing wasteful use rather than failures to meet the reduction target. The plan is "to use the kinder, gentler informative approach." Staff will also create an outreach plan to educate the public about the new water policies and track enforcement.

While residents questioned the urgency of enacting the new restrictions, the city itself would face fines from the state had the council not implemented the restrictions by Aug. 28, Mr. McClure said.

The state mandate is in effect through the end of April, and may be extended if the drought continues, according to the city's staff.

These changes apply only to the estimated 14,100 customers of the Menlo Park Municipal Water District, although all agencies are required to implement restrictions. Customers of other water providers, such as Cal Water, may have slightly different regulations to follow.

Drought-tolerant yard

Anyone looking to keep some greenery in their yard may want to attend a free seminar on drought-tolerant gardening at 11 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 6, in the council chambers at the Civic Center at 701 Laurel St.

Led by Alane O'Reilly Weber, a longtime master composter and owner of Botanical Arts in San Mateo, the seminar will cover the basics of plants, planting, care and maintenance for a water-efficient garden.

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