When it comes to water conservation, local environmentalists want people to take a lesson from the city of Menlo Park.
Having outpaced nearly every other utility across all of California, Menlo Park will be recognized for going above and beyond to exceed state conservation mandates.
The city is a recipient of this year’s Silicon Valley Water Conservation Awards, having reined in the top honor in the water utility category — Menlo Park is its own utility, responsible for providing water to customers citywide.
“I’m very excited that we have this award and the city’s being recognized and I think through getting this and [the word] out, other cities will learn from what we’re doing and others will be able to conserve more. Because the drought won’t be over, in spite of the rain that we’re having,” said Mayor Pro Tem Kirsten Keith.
Between doubling rewards for businesses or residents who ditch their lawns and offering discounted landscape design services, the city achieved a staggering cumulative 42.2 percent reduction between June 2015 and January 2016, as compared to the same time in 2013. During the summer months, the city raked in a nearly 47 percent savings. Only mandated to cut back 16 percent, Menlo Park has consistently been in the top, if not the number one, utility to exceed its requirements by the highest ratio — between 30 percent and 26 percent.
“Menlo Park residents and businesses have been very supportive of the environment and have been very aware of the drought, so that’s been critical in driving participation for these kinds of programs,” said Heather Abrams, the city’s environmental programs manager. “It’s a combination of outreach and working together, with businesses and residents, and everyone doing their part. And they really have in Menlo Park.”
Utilities across California have for the first time in history, been mandated to meet tiered conservation targets as Gov. Jerry Brown seeks a statewide cumulative 25 percent savings to combat the ongoing four-year drought.
Organized by a coalition of environmental groups and civic agencies, the Silicon Valley awards program began in 2009 and recognizes those in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Alameda counties.
“This year’s award winners have taken extraordinary steps to conserve water, leading the way for this critical effort to reduce our region’s water use,” Nicole Sandkulla, CEO of the Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency, or BAWSCA, wrote in an email. “We hope that the innovative water-saving practices and technologies demonstrated by the award winners will encourage others to adopt similar best practices within their own homes and communities and to explore new ways to use water more efficiently.”
Other local San Mateo County recipients include the city of South San Francisco being honored for its greenscape management as it reduced municipal water use by 57 percent since 2013; and the Menlo Park-based SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, which saved 15 million gallons of potable water over the last two years and replaced 20,000 square feet of lawn with drought-resistant landscaping.
Abrams and Keith noted much of Menlo Park’s success was due to high participation levels in programs that address outdoor irrigation — infamously known as one of the biggest drain on residential water consumption and yet the most expendable.
“About 50 percent of water use in Menlo Park was for landscaping, so I think the reductions you see are primarily from that area,” Abrams said.
Menlo Park enhanced BAWSCA’s Lawn Be Gone Program offering residents and businesses double, or $2, per square foot of turf removed. It also developed a Conserve-A-Scape program that provided on-site design consultation with a professional landscape architect and customized drought-tolerant garden design, a $400 value, for just $50.
“I think it makes it less intimidating to do,” Keith said, noting the affordable support for redoing one’s landscape was an attractive offer.
Crediting Abrams for undertaking extensive community outreach, Keith added the evidence is clear when taking a stroll through the city.
“Even when I walk my dog in different neighborhoods in Menlo Park, I can see the difference visually where people have removed their lawns and put in better landscaping,” Keith said.
City officials also kept a heavy presence at a variety of festivals or events making sure to hand out high-efficiency fixtures like flow aerators and shut-off hose nozzles, Abrams said. Internally, staff worked hard to reduce its own water use such as finding ways to reuse water to wash city vehicles, she added.
In looking ahead as it seeks to continue conserving, Keith noted some impressive collaborations are underway. The Sharon Heights Golf & Country Club, one of the city’s largest water users, has been very supportive of innovating means to save water and is considering using recycled water for irrigation by working with the West Bay Sanitary District, which collects the city’s wastewater, Keith said.
Organizers note the importance of sharing advancements being made in the conservation industry and inspiring others to learn how they can do more to cut back. This year’s eighth annual awards ceremony is being held at the Google Campus March 23. Attendees will also be able to participate in a rare taste-test of the Half Moon Bay Brewing Company’s beer made with highly-treated recycled water — a product being used to advocate for expanded uses of treated recycled water by brewery owner Lenny Mendonca.
With a total of 10 award recipients ranging from government agencies to students and spanning the categories of innovation to lifetime achievement, organizers hope attendees will walk away motivated to continue saving the state’s most precious natural resource, according to Peter Drekmeier, policy director with the Tuolumne River Trust and co-organizer of the event.
“Our goal with the awards is to recognize outstanding efforts to conserve water, but also to inspire others,” Drekmeier wrote in an email. “In our judging, we give extra weight to programs that can be replicated by others.”
Visit waterawards.org for more information about the Silicon Valley Water Conservation Awards.
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