Silicon Valley Residents Asked to Use 20% Less Water – But How?

Now that 2 million customers in Silicon Valley have officially been asked to take shorter showers, cut down on watering their lawns and reduce their water consumption, the question is: How?

On Tuesday night, the Santa Clara Valley Water District board voted unanimously to call for mandatory measures to reach a water use reduction target of 20 percent through December.

In doing so, the district became one of 23 cities and water districts that have issued mandatory conservation restrictions, and at least 77 agencies that have called for voluntary efforts in light of Gov. Jerry Brown's request, according to Lisa Lien-Mager, spokeswoman for the Association of California Water Agencies. (See interactive map below)

But as Santa Clara Valley Water District spokesman Marty Grimes told NBC Bay Area on Wednesday, the district can only call for the reduction, it can't tell its customers how to achieve that goal.

On a individual basis, Sandrine Armani posted on the NBC Bay Area Facebook page that she uses the water she washes her lettuce with to water her plants. Linda E. Lopez posted that she got rid of her front lawn and added drought-resistant plants.

On a larger scale, Santa Clara Valley Water District's retail customers, which include San Jose Water Co., California Water Service Co., and cities such as Sunnyvale, Santa Clara and Milpitas, will have to come up with their own plans to entice water users to use less.

That could mean ordering people in even and odd ZIP codes to alternate who gets to water lawns on specific days, banning people from filling up their pools, instilling higher fees for reckless water use, and perhaps, like the city of Santa Cruz did, ban restaurants from serving water, unless diners ask.

Those are many of the ideas that John Tang, a spokesman for San Jose Water, said his company is likely to enact in the next month or so. Tang said his company expects to ban landscape watering between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. and set odd-even watering days.

There may be fines for violators, Tang said. "There will probably be a surcharge, he said, adding that San Jose Water probably will not set water use limits, but will look toward charging higher rates for people who are water hogs.

Grimes said these measures won't be immediate. The California Public Utilities Commission must approve all rate hikes, and individual cities must pass ordinances such as drinking water in restaurants.

The monthly results of how well - or not well - customers are doing in their effort to reduce water consumption will be logged in a monthly report.

Grimes acknowledged that the water district doesn't really have a "hammer" to enforce the reduction plan. But he did say everyone pretty much "gets it" in California that the state is facing emergency drought conditions. 

Also on Tuesday, the the East Bay Municipal Utility District board decided to exercise an option to buy up to 20,000 acre feet of water from the Placer County Water Agency. The district would spend $1.5 million to buy the water and another $6.5 million to pump in the water from near Sacramento, the Contra Costa Times reported.

On April 8, EBMUD is expected to decide whether to order rationing or stick with voluntary conservation. For now, customers are asked to cut back 10 percent, which is what agencies in the Mid-Peninsula District, San Francisco Public Utilities Commission are being asked to do.

BELOW: An interactive map created by the Association of California of Water Agencies of which communities are asking water users to conserve.

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Drought status data is provided by Association of California Water Agencies   
  Mandatory Restrictions
  Voluntary Measures
  Agricultural Reductions
  Other actions
  Drought Emergency / Water Shortage Declared
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