Heads-up residents of the Bear Gulch Water District. It looks like water rationing is in your future.
At an Earth Day celebration in Atherton on Tuesday night, Dawn Smithson, the manager for the California Water Service Company's Bear Gulch water district, said the company is working on its plan for reaching an expected mandate of a 36 percent reduction in water use over 2013 levels.
While Ms. Smithson said she does not yet know the details of the water rationing program, it will probably be based on the historic water usage of each property, she said. In order to account for properties that have already been conserving, there will be baseline amount of water usage that no one will be expected to drop below, she said.
She said she expects there will be some sort of appeals process by which customers could challenge their allocation for special circumstances.
The district, which includes Atherton, Portola Valley, most of Woodside, and parts of Menlo Park and Redwood City, has reduced its water use by 11 percent from 2013 levels, Ms. Smithson said.
The Bear Gulch district used 252.5 gallons per day per person from July through September 2014, according to state water board numbers.
In response to a question, she said the district does plan on rationing water and is working on "water budgets" and penalties for non-compliance. Ms. Smithson said the State Water Resources Control Board is scheduled to release its draft regulations on April 28 and adopt them May 5. The state Public Utilities Commission, which regulates Cal Water, is then expected to adopt the same regulations soon after.
After that, public hearings will be held on the Bear Gulch district's plan to comply with the regulations. Ms. Smithson said she expects that to take place some time before the end of May. She expects one public hearing will be held, probably somewhere near the district's offices on Alameda de las Pulgas in Menlo Park.
The district will have to work cooperatively with local governments, Ms. Smithson said, to enforce the regulations. If the district does not show it is moving toward the state-mandated goal, it can be fined up to $10,000 a day for non-compliance, she said.
"It's going to take a conscientious effort on the part of all of us," she said.
Ms. Smithson said she does not know if tiered water rates will be used as a tool to encourage conservation because the California Public Utilities Commission sets the company's rates.
Ms. Smithson said the district does plan to work with "our high volume users," including residential customers who use lots of water, on a one-on-one basis, to figure out how to cut back. "I like to call it a concierge service," she said.
Ms. Smithson said Cal Water has "always been a huge supporter of conservation," and has had conservation programs in place for years including things such as rebates on smart irrigation controllers and high efficiency sprinkler heads and kits to retrofit faucets and check for leaks, as well as a program with agencies such as schools, cities and parks that use a lot of water on landscaping to help them reduce water use.
"These efforts have been working," she said, noting that from 2007 to 2014 the district has cut back water consumption by 23 percent.
The district is responding to complaints about water use that does not comply with the restrictions already in place, including water running off from landscaping or washing down of hard surfaces. "You might also see us going door-to-door," she said, if employees notice misuse of water.
Ms. Smithson said the district is working on ways to help customers monitor their own water use. The district has information on its website and in handouts about how to read a water meter, and are experimenting with "smart meters" that could put that information online.
She said she has noted to Cal Water that bills that measure water use in gallons rather than cubic feet would be more helpful to customers.