Alex Furuya/Daily Journal file photo
Cynthia Ladd walks her dog Chloe past two houses, one with a brown lawn and one with a green lawn, on Maple Street in San Mateo’s Borel neighborhood.
As San Mateo County water distributors are navigating state-ordered water conservation rules, residents may find that irrigation restrictions vary widely depending upon where they call home.
The State Water Resources Control Board approved an emergency regulation in July, which requires water providers with 3,000 or more connections to activate their individual Water Shortage Contingency Plans to a level where outdoor irrigation restrictions are mandatory. As San Mateo County’s cities are served by a number of utility companies, each with different conservation plans, it’s lead to a patchwork of mandates aimed to curb water use.
Because the control board’s order is nuanced and each water distributor has varying conservation plans, it could take time for the public to have firm direction, said Yvonne Kingman, California Water Service Company’s corporate communications manager.
“Its intent is vague, I believe, because it’s leaving a lot of room for local agencies and law enforcement and water providers to figure out how they’re going to handle it,” Kingman said. “So it gives us some leeway to make it work instead of the state trying to micromanage it. And at the same time, there’s resources there in order to enforce it.”
Contingency plans could include more stringent restrictions, such as limiting irrigation to certain times and prohibiting new landscape from being planted. Providers must now decide how to implement and enforce the new regulations, said Nicole Sandkulla, CEO of the Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency.
“The state ordered [water providers] to look at the level in their individual drought plan and look at what action level requires mandatory restrictions on landscape,” Sandkulla said. “So there’ll be differences among agencies on how they meet that requirement, but it will have some level of mandatory restriction.”
The state’s order also prohibits four outdoor water uses making it now illegal for urban residents to water landscape to the point of flooding or where runoff flows into streets, wash cars without using a shutoff nozzle, use water to wash any hard surfaces like driveways and use decorative fountains without recirculation devices. Water suppliers are also authorized to charge fines for prohibited uses up to $500 per day and distributors that don’t abide by the Control Board’s orders could face penalties up to $10,000 a day.
Regardless of the new requirements, most cities and agencies are struggling with enforcement and said they will focus on educating customers before levying penalties.
Benefits of reducing outdoor use
The state is focusing on irrigation because it accounts for the majority of consumption and one can only cut back so much on indoor use without broader health affects, said Tim Moran, spokesman with the State Water Resources Control Board.
“In terms of residential water use, outdoor use is greater than indoor use and can be somewhat less critical than indoor use. In terms of indoors, you have to flush toilets and have drinking and cooking water. And outdoor use is probably a place you can cut back without endangering health and safety,” Moran said.
Burlingame, Daly City, Foster City, Hillsborough, San Bruno, Cal Water and the Coastside County Water District have activated their Water Shortage Contingency Plans.
Redwood City, Menlo Park, Millbrae, Menlo Park and the Mid Peninsula Water District will meet to discuss the next steps in restricting residential irrigation use.
Many San Mateo County cities have begun to contribute to the statewide efforts by reducing their outdoor uses, particularly within Parks and Recreation Departments.
Data provided by cities and districts show all have agreed to make the state’s four outdoor uses mandatory and some are enacting more stringent restrictions based on their individual Contingency Plans.
Going further than the state
Many cities are encouraging consumers to conserve by not watering landscape during the day, when evaporation is more likely.
Burlingame is encouraging its residents not to irrigate between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. Foster City is prohibiting irrigation between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. The Coastside County Water District; which serves Half Moon Bay, El Granada and Princeton; is also limiting use between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.
Hillsborough is prohibiting irrigation one hour after sunrise through an hour before sunset.
Daly City is prohibiting landscape watering between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. and limiting it to two days per week.
San Bruno is asking residents not to water between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., as well as deterring residents from planting new landscape that isn’t drought tolerant.
Cal Water; which serves most of San Mateo, South San Francisco, San Carlos as well as other San Mateo County communities; is following the California Public Utilities Commission direction, Kingman said.
Cal Water is implementing the Control Board’s requirements and will continue to request its customers adhere to other outdoor restrictions such as repairing broken irrigation’s systems after being notified.
Millbrae has not enacted any stage of its contingency plan, but the council will meet Sept. 9 to discuss implementing the state’s requirements.
The Menlo Park City Council will meet Tuesday to discuss implementing stage three of its contingency plan, which is more restrictive than the state as it prohibits any new or expanded irrigation systems.
The Mid-Peninsula Water District, which primarily services Belmont and a portion of San Carlos, has not enacted any stage of its contingency plan either. However, the board will be meeting Aug. 28 and could approve additional restrictions, such as prohibiting new non-drought tolerant landscape from being planted if it finds users aren’t conserving enough.
Restricting outdoor use is timely, said Sindy Mulyono-Danre, Public Works water resource management supervisor. The Redwood City Council meets Aug. 25 to discuss implementing its contingency plan and restricting outdoor irrigation to twice a week.
“We only have a few months left to get as much savings as we can because the greatest savings can be achieved during the summer months. Because as we go through winter, the demand for outdoor use will be less,” Mulyono-Danre said.
The state’s orders make certain uses illegal however, most San Mateo County distributors said they will focus on education before enforcing penalties. For districts with limited resources and no policing power, there is a question of who will be responsible for issuing fines or identifying offenders.
Currently, San Bruno and Cal Water have received complaints from residents who have noticed violations and are investigating the complaints.
Kingman said because Cal Water has a broad coverage area, it might turn to individual cities for enforcement. Cal Water will begin with education, but multiple offenders could face the installation of flow restrictive devices, have their service cut off or be issued fines, Kingman said.
Moran said the control board needed to implement mandates because statewide conservation rates were far from adhering to Gov. Jerry Brown’s 20 percent water reduction request.
“We are in an extremely serious drought situation. We had done a survey of what urban water districts had conserved in the past year and overall water use I believe had gone up,” Moran said. “The restrictions didn’t happen voluntarily.”
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