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Collecting rain drops
April 07, 2014, 05:00 AM By Sue Lempert

I attended the Silicon Valley Sustainable Landscape Summit in Foster City March 24. I returned home with stacks of vendor materials and some practical tips on how to conserve water. The next day it rained. Inspired by the conference, I collected all of the pails I could find and garbage pail covers (proven to be the most effective) and placed them strategically in the backyard. When it stopped raining and before my take would evaporate, I collected a significant amount and dumped it on a thirsty garden.

There are more sophisticated tools such as rain barrel tanks. Also, sprinkler systems which respond to changing weather and rain conditions, sprinkler and hose nozzles which direct water to where it is needed and off of pavement. Drought-resistant plants and grass to replace your water hungry green lawn. Cities have websites which outline the dos and don’ts of conservation. There’s no excuse not to reduce your water consumption. You can hear the conference presentations on the following website:


One of the main tools is to know how much water you use daily. You need to read your water meter to do this. It would help if Cal Water gave us smart meters to easily get the information. Conference speakers also suggested finding and repairing leaks, and recycling indoor water outside. It’s important for cities to take the lead. A few years ago, Foster City projected that its water use demands would outstrip the amount of water available from their water supplier (San Francisco Public Utilities Commission’s Hetch Hetchy). To protect their residents — and the city’s economic future — Foster City embarked on a major effort to reduce water usage. They designed a water conservation program specifically tailored to their city, and then worked with homeowners associations and businesses to implement the program. In just three years, they reduced the city’s water use by about 20 percent. This is great news today, as it gives Foster City a good buffer in the event of water supply reductions in the drought.

San Mateo also faces a serious water supply challenge — one that’s made more urgent by the current drought. The water conference showed opportunities for the city to protect its residents and its economic future through water conservation. Both low-tech and high-tech methods can eliminate a great deal of wasted water — and they are not a hassle and won’t harm our quality of life. According to Kelly Moran, former planning and public works commissioner, “Our city can and should work with our regional water supply agency (the Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency) and our local water supplier (California Water Service Company) to develop a plan that protects our future. I am very pleased to see that our City Council and new city manager are already starting down this path.”


San Mateo is already working on a plan to meet 10 percent water reduction, which will be presented to the City Council tonight. The two largest consumers of water are the wastewater treatment plant and landscape irrigation. Miles of irrigation pipe are used to distribute $471,000 worth of water per year to irrigate athletic fields, shrubs and median islands. The Parks and Recreation Department has a plan for every city landscaped area. Each park or island has been assessed for priority watering. High uses such as athletic fields and picnic areas will be maintained green. Ornamental turf will receive less water. And areas where turf is rarely used will be left dry when it is not raining.

Most parts of Central and King parks are irrigated through on-site wells. The city is exploring the use of wells at Beresford Park. Upgrading the wastewater treatment plant so that reclaimed water could be used for irrigation is not imminent, but the Department of Public Works is exploring ways the city can recycle water. The golf course is also supplied by on-site well water and no changes are planned there. The biggest impact will be aesthetic. Some areas will be brown instead of green this summer. The incentive is not only to save water but to save money as water costs are supposed to soar.


The city’s new Sustainability Commission will be playing a leading role. Thirty-seven citizens applied to be on this new commission, the most overwhelming response ever received for board and commission applications. That’s the good news. The bad news is that for some reason the council decided to tinker with tradition and appoint two candidates up front without interviews because they were well-known. That’s not fair to the others who applied and sets a terrible precedent. Hopefully that won’t happen again.

Sue Lempert is the former mayor of San Mateo. Her column runs every Monday. She can be reached at



Tags: water, conference, which, conservation, foster, supply,

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