Local water district may see mandatory cut of 35%

State officials seeking comments on draft framework for regulations

It's not yet official, but it's looking like a mandatory 35 percent reduction in water use is ahead for the California Water Service Company's Bear Gulch district, which includes Atherton, Woodside, Portola Valley and parts of Menlo Park and Redwood City.

In his April 1 executive order, and with the state in its fourth consecutive year of drought, Gov. Jerry Brown ordered the state Water Board to achieve an aggregated reduction in water use of 25 percent across the state in the coming year. In response, the water board on April 7 issued a draft "proposed regulatory framework" assigning each of 411 water authorities in the state to one of four conservation tiers, based on per capita water consumption in September 2014.

The Bear Gulch district is one of 135 public and private water suppliers assigned to tier 4 -- districts whose aggregate residential consumption is more than 165 gallons of water per person per day, according to a spreadsheet issued by the water board.

Cal Water has not yet responded to an interview request.

The Bay Area is light in the number of tier 4 districts. Hillsborough is the only other one.

The city-owned Menlo Park Municipal Water District is assigned to tier 2, which requires a 20 percent reduction in water use. Palo Alto and Redwood City are also in tier 2. Los Altos is assigned to tier 3.

While water board regulations technically do not apply to Cal Water and other investor-owned water companies in that they are regulated by the California Public Utilities Commission, the commission is expected to follow the lead of the water board.

Gov. Brown issued an emergency decree in January 2014 asking for a voluntary 20 percent cut in water consumption. The Menlo Park water district exceeded that target, reducing water use by 27 percent compared to 2013 numbers, according to water board figures. The Bear Gulch district reduced consumption by 11 percent. The average savings statewide was 9 percent.

The water board is taking comments on the draft regulatory framework until Monday, April 13. Here are some of the questions the board is asking the public to comment on:

■ "How should the regulation differentiate between tiers of high, medium and low per capita water users?

■ "Should water suppliers disclose their list of actions to achieve the required water reductions?

■ "How and when should compliance with the required water reductions be assessed?

■ "What enforcement response should be considered if water suppliers fail to achieve their required water use reductions?"

● Click here to open the board's fact sheet, and turn to Page 2 for the list of questions.

● Click here to go to the state's online portal for emergency drought regulations.

● Write to Jessica Bean at with comments or questions.

A board hearing on approval and adoption of the regulatory framework is set for May 5 or 6. Regulations would be in place by June 1.

Portola Valley

At a Town Council meeting Wednesday night (April 8), council members discussed the impacts on the town of the proposed conservation regulations. Most at risk is the natural grass at the town's three major playing fields -- Rossotti (soccer) Field, Ford (baseball) Field and the Town Center soccer and baseball fields.

The situation at Ford Field at 3399 Alpine Road may be the most severe, Town Manager Nick Pegueros said in staff report.

The state's water cutbacks are referenced to a baseline of 2013, but Ford Field was under reconstruction in that year and not being irrigated. The field was heavily irrigated in 2014 to give the new grass a good start.

Under the initial expectation of a 25 percent cut in consumption, the town is already 322 percent beyond the conservation target for Ford Field, according to a staff report. That number can only get worse with a 35 percent cutback.

For the other two fields, the numbers are not as severe. Councilwoman Ann Wengert suggested that the town try to arrange a pooling of the three fields to lessen the impact at Ford Field.

Meanwhile, town staff are taking immediate action to reduce irrigation, Mr. Pegueros said. "This will likely result in a significant decline in the appearance of the Town's fields but every effort will be made to ensure that the fields are playable," he said in the staff report.

It's not yet clear who would enforce compliance with new conservation regulations, what the penalties would be for noncompliance, and to whom they would be directed. For now, the town has no resources for enforcement, Mr. Pegueros said.

The town has options, Mr. Pegueros and Ms. Wengert said, including local ordinances or a new tax that punishes excessive consumption. Any new tax would require the approval of a two-thirds majority of registered voters in town.

Cal Water would direct income from fines and penalties to water conservation programs and not to company profit, Mr. Pegueros said. The company is awaiting direction from the state utilities commission, he said.

The town's Water Conservation Committee is putting together a package of conservation measures for a coming council meeting, said Brandi de Garmeaux, the town's sustainability and special projects manager.

"Tiered pricing will not do it," Ms Wengert said. "It will not do it. We have to come up with ways to change behavior."

Perhaps the town needs a conservation working group that consists of members of that committee along with members of the Conservation Committee, the Parks & Recreation Committee and the Architectural and Site Control Commission, Mr. Pegueros said.

"It's affecting every single one of us here, and it is here now," Ms. Wengert said. "It's going to involve (the) Conservation (Committee), it's going to involve Parks and Rec, it's going to involve the ASCC, and very quickly."

Judy Murphy of the Conservation Committee suggested a water summit. Ms. Murphy characterized Portola Valley by comparing it to Rancho Mirage, an irrigated and green desert resort near Los Angeles.

Portola Valley has been building its own little Rancho Mirage, she said. "We have a chance of letting it be," she said. "We can still have an enormously beautiful community."

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14 people like this
Posted by Martin Engel
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Apr 9, 2015 at 4:35 pm

Is anybody angry about all this? Governor Brown's mandatory cut-backs for urban areas? And here we are about to be obliged to cut back our water use even further. Is it clear to everybody what this is all about?

Web Link

"Agricultural water use is holding steady even while the economic value of farm production is growing.
Approximately nine million acres of farmland in California are irrigated, representing roughly 80% of all human water use. Higher revenue perennial crops—nuts, grapes, and other fruit—have increased as a share of irrigated crop acreage (from 27% in 1998 to 32% in 2010 statewide, and from 33% to 40% in the southern Central Valley). This shift, plus rising crop yields, has increased the value of farm output (from $16.3 billion of gross state product in 1998 to $22.3 billion in 2010, in 2010 dollars), thereby increasing the value of agricultural water used. But even as the agricultural economy is growing, the rest of the economy is growing faster. Today, farm production and food processing only generate about 2% of California’s gross state product, down from about 5% in the early 1960s.
So, what do we learn? Agriculture represents 80% of our state water use. Excluding industrial/commercial use, urban/residential use is approximately 10% of all water use in California. Nonetheless, water use in the major urban areas, Bay Area, South Coast regions, has, in fact, been constant over the past 20 years."

"The current drought exposes major water use challenges.
In the Central Valley, where most agricultural water use occurs, the failure to manage groundwater sustainably limits its availability as a drought reserve. The increase in perennial crops—which need to be watered every year—has made the region even more vulnerable."

Urban/residential water use is about 10% to 15%. Agriculture's water use -- 80% -- brings in only 2% of California's gross state revenues. That's not even a good business model.

So, why is the Governor hammering urban water consumption by demanding another decrease of 25%? To make this point as clearly as possible: Even if all urban/residential water use was absolutely terminated, it would still only reduce California's water consumption by no more than 10%.

In other words, the current consumption reduction targets by the Governor and Administration are us, the lowest use groups; i.e. urban/residential. It's like increasing taxes on the poor for the benefit of the rich. That runs counter to Democratic Party ideology. I'm a Democrat and I should know. It also runs counter to common sense. It is grossly inequitable and unfair.

What's the solution? There are several just off the top of my head: Increase water costs to agriculture. Oblige agriculture to convert their irrigation technology to lower use (e.g.,below-ground drip) methods, like agriculture in Israel. Put water distribution into pipes underground, not like now in open canals. Stop agriculture in California's driest desert regions where water demands are most intensive. (growing rice?) Remember, this is the 80% of all potable water consumed in California!

Finally, stop throwing tax generated money at so-called legacy boondoggles like high-speed rail, and revamp the state budget to confront the permanent water shortage seriously. Think, for example, bond issues for desalination that is energized by renewable energy sources (wind, solar, etc.)

10 people like this
Posted by Louise68
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 10, 2015 at 1:03 am

Martin ----
Thank you very much for your comments. They are spot on.

Two things I would add -- which contain facts I learned from a commenter to a different Almanac news story about water use:
1. Stop growing almonds -- NOW. Why? The almond-growing industry uses -- are you sitting down? -- 1.1 trillion gallons of water every year -- and is NOT subject to any mandatory cutbacks!
2. Stop all fracking -- NOW! Why? Fracking uses 70 million gallons of drinking water per year -- and is also NOT subject to any mandatory cutbacks! And, what is even worse, fracked water cannot be reused, as it has to be polluted with toxic chemicals in order for the fracking process to work.

Looks as though the almond -growers and the oil industry have been quite successful in their lobbying efforts in Sacramento. This is, from what I have read, because almonds and other California-grown nuts sell for very high prices in Asia, which gives that industry a huge amount of money -- and, thus, a lot of political power in California. They have so much money that the politicians obey them, and not us, the ordinary residential users, even though obeying Big Ag and Big Oil is quite likely to cause a huge humanitarian crisis of unprecedented proportions in California when the state runs out of water, as it eventually will if this horrible drought continues -- which, according to climatologists, it is likely to do.

(I hope with all my heart that that I am proven wrong about this drought, and that, sooner, rather than later, the Sierra will again get its regular yearly 20 feet of very wet snow.)

13 people like this
Posted by nneighbot
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Apr 10, 2015 at 6:43 am

how about stopping new construction of mega apartments. Where is the water going to come for all the new residents ?
WE are being asked to cut back & sounds as tho the tenants will have "open faucets"

7 people like this
Posted by Alan
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Apr 10, 2015 at 11:04 am

Alan is a registered user.

Just a little thought for consider ... although the mandates are state wide, the state uhas multiple water sources. The local area generally uses Hetch-Hetchy water and aquifers. These particular water sources are generally used for residences, not agriculture. You *should* be concerned about excessive use of water for agriculture and mining, but that problem is independent of addressing limitations with our water supply.

Large apartment complexes are, on a per person basis, far more water efficient than estates in Woodside, Portola Valley, and Atherton. One could make an argument that California would be better off with fewer people, but - from the perspective of conserving resources - higher density housing is far, far more efficient.

I am not one to begrudge wealthy people of the benefits of the fruits of their labor; not everyone needs to live in studio apartments, there should be rewards for success. However, I have a hard time believing that, with a little thought, these people have the margin to be able to cut their usage 35% on average through smarter landscaping, pool covers, efficient appliances, using greywater and recycled water, etc, etc, etc, and still maintain a lifestyle that the majority of people would utterly envy. They should be demanding value from the water that they use; that's the way it should be thought about. How can someone sit back and argue it's unfair without some twinge of embarrassment?

4 people like this
Posted by Harry 1
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Apr 10, 2015 at 4:21 pm

Let's just send more water to Menlo Country Club and Sharon Country Club.

Time to cut back development.

8 people like this
Posted by Martin Engel
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Apr 12, 2015 at 12:31 pm

Web Link

Now do you see why asking us to save even more water in our homes is such nonsense? We are being asked to save another 25% of the 10% we city dwellers consume. That's right: No more than 10% to 15% of all water consumed in California is residential. Agriculture is the other 80% to 85%. But. . .HOW MUCH IS WASTED, AGRICULTURALLY???

30%? More? We are told that that the various water sources around the state are not connected. So, we are told to save part of our city water source which is not connected to the Central Valley water sources. Well, connect them! We are in permanent drought. All the water distribution in the state should be connected. Some pundits are telling us that it's not the lack of water that is the problem; it's the way it's distributed. OK. Fix that. But, please don't tell home owners to shower shorter or have to ask for a glass of water in a restaurant. That's stupid and nothing more than insulting.

Here's another idea: desalination. All our electric power is being manufactured by power plants. We can't live without it. Well, our water -- another essential utility -- can also be manufactured (taking seawater and making it potable). Desalination is an ideal use of renewable energy -- photo-voltaic solar; wind; etc. -- because water, unlike electricity, can be stored.

See this article for further discussion: <Web Link;

4 people like this
Posted by conservation
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Apr 12, 2015 at 3:22 pm

I think water conservation by all of us is a good thing. [Even better is to promote population control throughout the globe; we humans are using up too many natural resources. Too bad that's so controversial few will touch the topic. ]

The city can promote water conservation by encouraging drought tolerant landscaping. I am appalled that the city of Menlo Park allows newly built single family homes to plant large swaths of green grass. There's something really wrong with that picture.

8 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 12, 2015 at 4:21 pm

Menlo Voter is a registered user.


you're missing the point. Residential conservation is a drop of spit in the ocean. We use less than 10% of the water in this state. The big users (AG) should be conserving before we do. They use 80% and waste at least 30% of that. Saving water at the residential level is just window dressing. It's meaningless.

16 people like this
Posted by Martin Engel
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Apr 12, 2015 at 7:29 pm

I keep telling myself to stay out of this conversation, but good comments appear that draw me back in. Thank you, "Menlo Voter," for making this agriculture vs. residents point again. Apparently, most of us have been brain-washed into believing that "every little bit helps." This, of course, flies in the face of reality and the facts. If agriculture wastes 30% more or less "down the toilet," what we each literally flush down the toilet is a drop in the ocean.

However, I do agree with "conservation" that the single biggest "seminal" problem this planet faces is too many people. There are occupancy limits on this earth that have been exceeded a long time ago. Space-ship Earth is what Bucky Fuller called our planet a long time ago. And we are now using it up.

Let me put this another way: Regardless of the drought, God did not intend for California to have 40 million people. As the global population-clock keeps going up, the demand on resources, minerals, potable water, clean air, the products of agriculture, the live-stock of the oceans, all are being depleted at an ever-increasing rate. These resources are not, in the long run, renewable.

Tragically, we don't want to think this way, so we don't. Population reduction is something we can't even talk about rationally.

And, finally, thinking about leaving this planet for another one is absurd beyond measure. In 50 years, there will be over 10 billion people on this planet. We're going to fly them all into outer space 400,000 years away? Really?

So, what to do? Significantly improve birth control availability globally. Reverse the obsession with consumerism; i.e., consume less. Value life more and things less. Stop the stupid greed and selfishness. De-power the corporate strangle-hold which controls our lives. "Waste not, want not." This planet is all we've got and all we're going to have.

Like this comment
Posted by conservation
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Apr 13, 2015 at 8:49 am

I get the point very clearly. My point is that no one should use as an excuse the overuse of water or other resources by others. Each and every one of us should minimize our use of natural resources as much as possible, and do all we can to promote the conversations that ought to be held about what our species is doing to our world.

@ ME - Great comments.

Like this comment
Posted by hear hear
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 13, 2015 at 9:40 am

You nailed it, Martin. Glad you stayed in the conversation.

Like this comment
Posted by joseph Baloney
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Apr 13, 2015 at 4:17 pm

Quit worrying about almonds and focus on beef.
It takes approximately 450 gallons of water for the meat in your quarter pounder.
If you don't want to go vegetarian, chicken and pork use less than one third of the water per pound.

Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 13, 2015 at 4:39 pm

Menlo Voter is a registered user.


it doesn't say, does the beef industry in this state use 1.1 TRILLION gallons of water every year?

Like this comment
Posted by joseph Baloney
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Apr 13, 2015 at 8:50 pm


A quick google search (my numbers may be wrong, you can google it yourself):

5.5M cattle in CA in 2015. Each cattle makes 255 kg of beef and fat in 3 years.

So, 187 lb/year/cow times 5.5M cows times 450 gal/lb = about a half of a trillion gal water per year.

Now 1.1 trillion gal of water makes 2B lb of almonds and half that water makes half that of beef.
So there are similarly inefficient.
Of course you can raise cattle fine in the midwest, almonds, not so much.

But, I guess I'll revise my original statement.
Don't worry about almonds alone. Worry about almonds AND cattle.

4 people like this
Posted by Martin Engel
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Apr 14, 2015 at 10:25 am

Web Link

Brilliant! The more water we save, the greater our financial punishment for our frugality. So, the first order of business is to keep the water distribution companies solvent and profitable. I wonder how high the water rates would be if we all stopped using water completely?

2 people like this
Posted by Peter
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Apr 14, 2015 at 7:31 pm

While Gerry Brown is telling us to cut water use, he is generously handing out permits for fracking. Not only does fracking use a huge amount of water, but it also pollutes ground water. It seems rather hypocritical of Brown to penalize us for water use but to allow oil companies to pollute our ground water and to waste our water.
Brown is also encouraging more immigration to our state by doling out more and more benefits--upcoming is the plan to give health benefits to illegal immigrants. If we don't have enough water for ourselves, how ill we have water for more and more people?

Like this comment
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 15, 2015 at 3:41 pm

For those of us who conserved and cut our water use to the bone, how in the world can we cut ANOTHER 35%? My only option to avoid the fine would be to turn off the house water (which is impossible). People who conserved last year will now be punished. How can the state fine us when we have no way to monitor our water usage during the month? This is very frightening to older people living on fixed incomes.

2 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 15, 2015 at 3:44 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"People who conserved last year will now be punished."

The base year is 2013 not 2014.

Like this comment
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 16, 2015 at 12:36 pm

Peter, we seriously conserved in 2013 as well. There is little more we can do so we will be punished. What will happen to seniors on fixed incomes who cannot reduce further and cannot pay the fine? Will their water be cut off?

Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 16, 2015 at 12:52 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

" What will happen to seniors on fixed incomes who cannot reduce further and cannot pay the fine? Will their water be cut off?"

The appropriate model is that used by PG&E - a tiered structure with low, life line, rates for an essential level of use and rapidly escalating rates for higher levels of use. One things that rich people understand is that high level of electrical use are very expensive - and they did not get rich or stay by ignore their expenses.

Like this comment
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 22, 2015 at 5:04 pm

Peter, tiered prices for utilities has been ruled unconstitutional. It is apparently illegal for a utility to charge more than the actual cost of the service. Are we going to ignore that ruling?

Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 22, 2015 at 5:13 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"Peter, tiered prices for utilities has been ruled unconstitutional."

Wrong. Tiered pricing by government agencies without cost justification for the pricing of higher tiers has been ruled unconstitutional.

This ruling has no impact on private water companies or on public agencies that are able to show that supplying larger quantities of water is actually more expensive. App water suppliers will find that purchasing additional quantiles of water this year is going to be very expensive and that expense can be passed on to users.

Like this comment
Posted by Chris Zaharias
a resident of another community
on Apr 23, 2015 at 10:16 am

Here's the list of reduction levels currently proposed by the State Board for Peninsula customers:

36%: California Water Bear Gulch - Atherton, Woodside, Portola Valley & Hillsborough

24%: Palo Alto

My understanding is that these will be in effect sometime in the next few weeks, and that hefty fines will be due for those who don't meet reduction targets.

Look at your water bill (CCF = 100 cubic feet of water = 748 gallons), and calculate how many gallons you'll have to reduce usage by to meet the 36% target. For larger properties in the CA H20 Bear Gulch district, that'll be 10000-50000 gallons per month in May/June/July/Aug/Sept.

I've recently launched RainDance, a startup that proposes to truck recycled water from Palo Alto's H20 Treatment Plant to residents and businesses on a monthly subscription basis so they can immediately meet these mandated reductions. 650-935-LAWN or We're hoping that capitalism and residents' desires to maintain landscape beauty and home value will be the engine for H20 use reduction!

Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda

on Sep 25, 2017 at 6:53 am

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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