Gov. Jerry Brown's new order to reduce water consumption by 25 percent could have an unusually high impact on local households.
In his order, the governor told water regulating authorities that service areas with greater per capita use should "achieve proportionally greater reductions than those with low use."
In 2013, the Bay Area averaged 79 gallons of water per person per day, according to the Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency. But Portola Valley's average in 2013 was 305 gallons per person per day, Woodside's was 421 gallons and Atherton's was 480 gallons, according to data from the California Water Service Company.
Cal Water, a private company with headquarters in San Jose, supplies water to many cities and towns, including Portola Valley, Woodside, Atherton and parts of Menlo Park.
In Menlo Park, in neighborhoods served by the Menlo Park Municipal Water District, usage was 88.5 gallons per person per day for 2013, and usage dropped to 78 gallons per person for 2014, according to Pam Lowe, a civil engineer for the district.
The 2013 numbers for Atherton, Woodside and Portola Valley are the latest available. Cal Water releases usage data only if a town official requests it.
The Almanac obtained additional data on Woodside's Cal Water customers. Between 450 and 500 single-family households used more than 75,000 gallons of water per month from June to August of 2013. That number jumped to nearly 600 households in September and remained high until December.
The data showed 17 percent of Woodside households used more than 67,500 gallons per month in 2013.
The governor's order requires golf courses, cemeteries and campuses to immediately reduce potable water use by 25 percent. The Department of Water Resources, acting with local agencies, must lead a statewide effort to replace 50 million square feet of lawn and ornamental landscaping with drought-tolerant alternatives.
But while the governor has set a state-wide use reduction target, his order does not say how the reductions will be allocated by water suppliers, water districts, and users.
The implementation plan will come from the state's Water Resources Control Board, which regulates public water agencies, and the California Public Utilities Commission, which regulates private water companies. The governor directs the water board to act, but requests that the utilities commission follows suit.
"The million dollar question is what's going to happen as a result of the governor's proclamation," said Dawn Smithson, manager of Cal Water's Bear Gulch district, in referring to the implementation specifics. "All your questions are pretty much my questions, too," Ms. Smithson told the Almanac.
The Bear Gulch district consists of Atherton, Woodside, Portola Valley and parts of Menlo Park and Redwood City. Some water systems may have to cut back by more than 25 percent, Ms. Smithson said.
There is local attention being paid. The Portola Valley Town Council will discuss the governor's order at its April 8 meeting. In Menlo Park, the City Council is expected to talk about it in May, and the Woodside Town Council may also, Woodside Town Manager Kevin Bryant said.
Will Woodside be asking for 2014 usage data? Mr. Bryant said he didn't think so. "(The big users) know who they are. People are very protective of their privacy," he said. "At this point, I don't see that it's something that we need to do our job."
Heavy users represent the best potential for reduction, he said, adding that he is more interested in a cooperative effort with Cal Water. "They know their customers and what it would take for them to reduce."
Portola Valley's Water Conservation Committee met with Cal Water recently and is preparing requests for data, Town Manager Nick Pegueros said. He will be going over the list with Brandi de Garmeaux, the town's sustainability and special projects manager, before submitting it to Cal Water, he said.
Menlo Park's water district implemented several restrictions in 2014: Potable water cannot be used to wash down driveways or sidewalks absent a health or safety concern, nor can it be used for irrigation if it runs off onto non-irrigated areas. Ornamental fountains must use re-circulated or recycled water. Hoses must have shut-off valves when washing vehicles. Restaurants and other food service operations can serve water to customers, but only upon request.
The Atherton City Council adopted a water-efficiency ordinance for new landscaping in 2010. The ordinance regulates plantings on steeper slopes, the use of mulch, smart irrigation systems, irrigation hours, fountain water, and the use of native or low- or no-water plants.
Holbrook-Palmer Park, the town's major public user of water, is irrigated with well water unsuitable for drinking, said Public Works Superintendent Steven Tyler. As for household reductions, Atherton will be taking its lead from Cal Water, City Manager George Rodericks said.
Towns don't control water use, but can impose regulations that have the effect of reducing water use, such as adding conditions to building permits and conditional use permits that require water-efficient landscaping.
The governor is requiring that new homes and buildings employ drip or micro-spray irrigation technology when using potable water. A related requirement prohibits irrigating "ornamental turf" on median strips on public streets with potable water. Plans for private lawns may come under local scrutiny.
The governor is ordering the 25 percent reductions based on 2013 usage. Conscientious residents have been conserving for years. Can they cut further? "This has always been a concern," Ms. Smithson of Cal Water said. It's not clear how finely tuned the rules will be. Cal Water's website will be a resource, she said.