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Don’t Let Up on Water Conservation

There’s two ways to cut your water use dramatically, the hard way and the easy way. The hard way is disrupting your every day life, say, by taking navy showers.

The easy way is by getting rid of your lawn.

I know because we got rid of our postage stamp-sized lawn, replaced it with some flowerpots and river rock and, small as it was, our water use dropped 30 percent.

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That’s not surprising. Outdoor water use accounts for as much as 50 percent of residential water use, according to The University of California’s Center for Landscape & Urban Horticulture. The biggest indoor use is flushing the toilet.

There’s an added bonus to replacing your lawn: The water district will pay you $1 per square foot of high water use landscaping you replace. (In the interest of full disclosure we didn’t apply for the rebate).

In the face of the extreme and climate-change driven drought conditions California faces, the urgency of water conservation has never been greater, says Santa Clara Director of Water & Sewer Utilities Gary Welling.

The City has water restrictions in place, but Welling says that the City is relying on education rather than coercion. However, code inspectors have been dispatched to investigate violations.

“We take an information-first approach,” said Welling. “People are very compliant. Usually they’re not aware of the waste or the watering restrictions.”

City Water Use Drops Dramatically, Helped by New Water-Efficient Construction

Santa Clara has reduced its water use year-over-year by 10 percent, Welling says; although water district statistics published recently don’t show that. The increase in water use, he explains, is due to a couple of water main breaks and routine well-flushing that’s needed to maintain water quality.

Welling hastens to note that the breaks to these mains (about 50 years old) weren’t due to any infrastructure neglect. Water mains are extremely solid infrastructure, he said, and in his long experience in public works he’s seen 100-year-old water mains that were still sound. The City replaces 10,000 feet of its roughly 300 miles of water mains every year.

The question regularly arises: If water is at a premium, why is the City allowing so much new construction? The answer is simple: Instead of increasing water use, redevelopment saves water.

“Old manufacturing facilities were very water-intensive,” Welling explained. “The residential development [now replacing them] is much more water efficient. There are strict guidelines. Brand new construction is extremely water-efficient.”

Besides new water efficient plumbing and appliances, requirements like drought-tolerant landscaping and recycled water for outdoor irrigation — now about 20 percent of Santa Clara’s total water usage — don’t merely control water use. They actually reduce it.

“Since 2013 Santa Clara has reduced water use by almost 30 percent despite development and population increase,” said Welling.  In addition, since 1987 the City’s water use has dropped overall by about 50 percent — that’s 5 million gallons a day.

But that doesn’t get the rest of us off the hook for conserving water. “Conservation helps control costs by reducing the need for expanded infrastructure,” said Welling.

You could start by ripping up the lawn.

Here are some other ways to reduce water use:

  • Get a free City Water Wise survey
  • Check out the Water Dept.’s Use 10 Gallons Less checklist
  • Routinely check pipes, faucets, and valves for leaks and make timely repairs
  • Reduce water consumption by updating bathrooms with high-efficiency (low-flow) toilets
  • Implement a laundry-water-to-landscaping system — the City will give you a $200 rebate and a free permit
  • Install aerators on faucets to reduce excess water flow
  • Save water by washing only full loads of clothes and dishes
  • Rinse fruits and vegetables over a tub and use the water to water plants
  • Limit showers to 5 minutes and fill the bathtub no more than halfway
  • Don’t let water run
  • Capture indoor water (while waiting for the tap to heat up) for use on outdoor plants
  • Skip the garbage disposal — it uses a lot of water, besides adding to potential sewer line clogs
  • Don’t water when it’s windy

Visit the City’s water conservation webpage or www.valleywater.org for more information or call the water district’s conservation hotline, 408-630-2554.

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