Many individual area residents and our local water agencies have made tremendous efforts to save water in the face of the drought that's parching the state. But more effort will be required as we enter our fourth year of dry weather with no relief in sight anytime soon.
Gov. Jerry Brown's strategy last year, when he declared that California was in a state of drought, was strangely mild considering the circumstances. But last week, pointing to the dismally low level of snowpack this season to underscore the crisis we face, the governor finally put mandatory 25 percent water reductions by California towns and cities into place through next February. His directive requires state agencies to create water-conservation strategies for local water agencies, such as the private company Cal Water and the public Menlo Park Municipal Water District, to implement.
These local agencies have already developed a number of strategies, such as public education and rebates for purchasing water-efficient appliances. In the case of the Menlo Park district, residents must adhere to a range of restrictions on the outdoor use of potable water.
The Bay Area in general has done a better job cutting back on water usage than much of the state; according to the Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency, the region's residents average 79 gallons of water per person per day. But a closer look at the statistics for individual towns is revealing. Although figures for per-capita water usage in all communities in the Almanac's coverage area are not yet available, the 2013 statistics for Portola Valley and Woodside put water consumption at 305 gallons and 421 gallons per person per day, respectively. Compare that with the numbers reported by towns such as Pacifica to the north, where usage is 37 gallons per person per day.
Cal Water, which provides water to Portola Valley, Woodside, Atherton and parts of Menlo Park, has been unwilling to provide 2014 water-consumption figures for its client towns unless the information is specifically requested by an individual town. The logic behind keeping that information from the public at large is murky at best. Water is a shared, vital resource, with all residents in the state affected by the behavior of those who won't do their part to conserve. The public has the right to demand water-usage data and hold public water agencies' as well as private water companies' feet to the fire to put in place serious penalties for irresponsible water wasters.