Following the recommendation of City Manager George Rodericks, the Atherton City Council on May 20 approved a resolution "endorsing and supporting" the California Water Service Company's (Cal Water) drought regulations, but leaving the enforcement of the water rules up to Cal Water.
"We don't want to confuse the residents about who is responsible for doing what," Mr. Rodericks told the council.
Mr. Rodericks said that if the council passed an ordinance, as Menlo Park and Woodside have done, the ordinance would then have to be revoked when the drought restrictions end. A resolution does not need to be revoked or changed if Cal Water changes its rules, he said.
Mayor Rick DeGolia said the council endorses and supports Cal Water's efforts "wholeheartedly."
He also emphasized that Atherton wants Cal Water to offer more incentives to conserve. "We believe that the most significant problem we have in reducing our water use has to do with outdoor water use," he said.
He asked for more robust incentives to encourage residents "to replace lawns with low water-use plantings," and acknowledged that Cal Water is working on incentives.
"Every one of us knows (the drought) is a really big issue for us," Mr. DeGolia said. "We just think the best way to make it work for our residents is to go to them with incentives that are going to encourage them to make the change."
The resolution unanimously passed by the council also commits the town to complying with Cal Water's restrictions in its own water use, and to reporting the town's progress toward the goal. It also offers to have town staff help Cal Water educate Atherton residents.
The resolution also offers to share public data such as permit records or complaints about violations of the drought regulations with Cal Water. One of the new regulations prohibits filling a new swimming pool, and Cal Water would need records of town permits for new pools in order to enforce that restriction.
Patrick Alexander, Cal Water's new conservation manager was at the meeting, and council members had plenty of questions for him. "It seems like your incentives are pretty puny," said council member Elizabeth Lewis. "Are you going to increase your incentives?"
Mr. Alexander said the company does plan to put more incentives into action. "We're in the process of increasing the programs that we have," he said. "We're definitely developing more and more programs."
Mr. Rodericks' staff report shows that last year Atherton used more water per customer than any other community Cal Water's Bear Gulch District serves. However, in 2013, the year used as the baseline for the mandated reductions in water use that must take place starting June 1, Woodside customers used more.
The report says that in 2013 Woodside customers used 1,380 gallons per meter per day; in Atherton, 1,356 gallons; in Portola Valley, 773 gallons; and in Menlo Park, 467 gallons.
In 2014, with non-mandatory restrictions in place, Atherton customers used 1,334 gallons per meter, per day; in Woodside, 1,249 gallons; in Portola Valley, 679 gallons; and in Menlo Park, 424 gallons.
Cal Water Bear Gulch District director Dawn Smithson said the district came up with the figures by adding up all the water used in the community, including commercial and institutional as well as residential uses, and dividing it by the number of water meters.
Note - this story has been updated to reflect Cal Water's explanation of the water use numbers used in the Atherton report.