Today’s water needs are complicated by the serious statewide drought. This raises valid questions of how to continue growing our local economy, while ensuring sufficient water supply and maintaining efficient use of water. In Redwood City, we’ve been carefully making plans around this issue for many years, and I’m proud to report that we are well-positioned to meet this challenge.
The renaissance of our downtown is well underway. Housing, retail, office, commercial and entertainment — all necessary for a vibrant community — are here and continuing to come to downtown Redwood City. This was the vision assembled by a community task force over 15 years ago, and the City Council at that time knew that “doing nothing” was not the right answer to ensure a prosperous future for our community.
The emergence of a new downtown neighborhood is not an accident — our city knew it needed to address the jobs-housing imbalance, and the housing that’s coming in now is a big step in that direction. Our new downtown neighborhood represents long-term vision, thoughtful planning and a lot of hard work. As 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh has quipped, we need to look ahead, peek around corners and under doors to try and see what is coming. That is what the present council and those before have done — they looked at the future of housing, transportation, land use, the economy and water in an integrated way.
The council and the community knew many years ago that the future of Redwood City was contingent upon our ability to control and plan our water usage. Through the work of the Recycled Water Task Force (on which I served), our charge was to be lower our Hetch Hetchy water allocation by 2020. Remarkably, we exceeded our goal by beating all of our 2020 water targets, and more, in 2011.
We were able to do this through a series of efforts that included:
• Converting grass playfields to synthetic turf, saving millions of gallons of water annually (and increasing playing time of the fields);
• Water conservation — one of our most successful programs was our low-flow toilet giveaway, providing the community with free, low-flow toilets to replace old water-wasting toilets;
• Replacing City urinals with low-flow or waterless fixtures; and
• Recycled water — our most significant initiative. Redwood City is the only city in San Mateo County that is producing recycled water — currently almost 200 million gallons each year — for industrial and landscape irrigation, thus preserving that amount of drinking water for our community.
Nearly all of the homeowners’ associations in Redwood Shores are using recycled water for landscape irrigation, and the industrial businesses at the Port of Redwood City are also using this water source. Our master plan is to extend the recycled water distribution system across Highway 101 up to El Camino Real. Many of the projects being planned and built have been dual-plumbed so that they can be connected to the recycled water system, and toilets can be flushed using recycled water, saving even more drinking water.
Through all of these efforts, we have been able to lower our total water consumption and plan for the future. I can assure our community that we are not done — we will continue to peek around corners, and look under doors to see what is coming, and to plan for it. Through that process, we have already shown that continued economic growth can be accomplished when it is aligned with a forward-thinking water policy, and integrated with the other key challenges we face.
Jeff Gee is the mayor of Redwood City.