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 email@example.com. 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.
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."