Water agencies are eyeing another dry year across the state, and local water districts are taking steps to get their users to cut back and invest in water conservation methods.
Two area water agencies, Coastside County Water District and the North Coast County Water District, are asking their customers to voluntarily reduce outdoor water use by 10 percent. For households, saving water comes down to changing behavior and investing in automatic systems, said Cathleen Brennan, CCWD’s resource analyst. Customers might wash the car less, take shorter showers or wait to run the dishwasher until it’s full. One benefit of installing timers or aerators is the convenience.
“People don’t have to think about it,” Brennan said. “They can take the same five- to 10-minute shower and use less water. It’s not something they have to change their routine around.”
Adrianne Carr, the NCCWD’s general manager, said that local water agencies are still seeing reduced daily water use in the Bay Area after customers cut back during the last statewide drought from 2012-2017. She believes that the combination of habit changes from customers and emphasis on conservation technology has led to lower water use.
Although automated methods are convenient, Brennan and other district leaders say the most impactful way to reduce water use in San Mateo County is by reducing landscape watering.
Studies have shown that statewide, outdoor irrigation is responsible for as much as half of all water used by a household. Alternatives like installing mulch and drought-resistant plants are sometimes more expensive but are among the most effective ways for a household to save water. Mulch alone can save 20 to 30 gallons per 1,000 square feet. Planting proper vegetation can save between 30 to 60 gallons per 1,000 square feet, according to the CCWD’s website.
A drip irrigation system saves 15 gallons each time you water, and adding a smart controller saves more than 24 gallons per day. Fixing sprinkler heads saves 12 to 15 gallons each time you water, and even small leaks can waste as much as 6,300 gallons a month, the website says.
But while it's tempting to replant lawns with drought-resistant plants, Brennan noted now might not be the best time for a full lawn makeover. Because young plants require more water to grow, it can be counterproductive to make such decisions during a drought season.
“During a drought, it’s not the time to decide to relandscape,” she said. “It’s those in-between years when we’re not dealing with water shortages or really dry landscapes.”
Some water agencies offer incentives for customers, like Mid-Peninsula Water District’s Lawn-Be-Gone Rebate program that allows select customers on the bayside to be paid to build drought-tolerant and water-efficient landscaping. Some water districts also offer a rain barrel rebate program, which provides up to $100 per barrel for the purchase and installation to collect runoff.
Another common option is to replace toilets and washing machines as they typically use the most water in homes. High-efficiency toilet models can flush 1.28 gallons or less compared to older models, which use up to 7 gallons per flush. For washers, a high-efficiency model can reduce water and energy use by 40 percent.
“If you fix your leaks, you’re really making sure your water use is controlled,” Carr said. “That’s a huge issue, and it continues to be.”