Conservation on Tap as Board Hears Drought Update from Placer County Water Agency

Published on May 20, 2015

Even though customers from 19 Sacramento-area water agencies have saved more than 20 billion gallons of water since January and the region leads the state in water conservation, it isn’t enough. Facing a fourth consecutive year of drought, California is now under strict water conservation requirements that are forcing residential, agricultural and commercial water users to change their water habits.

At today’s meeting of the Placer County Board of Supervisors, representatives from the Placer County Water Agency, the county’s largest water purveyor, updated the board on the region’s water situation, including supply and demand, state-mandated conservation requirements and local water agency conservation efforts. In a water conservation snapshot from last August, PCWA customers reduced water use by an average of 25 percent, with residential customers saving 18 percent and agricultural users saving a whopping 35 percent.

With a finite amount of water and a population nearing 40 million, managing California’s supply is a complicated balancing act between supply and demand, water rights and environmental requirements. PCWA, for the third year on record, will not receive its full water allocation. This year, Pacific Gas & Electric Company, which provides the agency with its water, will allocate about two-thirds of its usual amount of water to the agency.

On April 1, Gov. Brown issued an executive order (PDF) requiring the State Water Resources Control Board to implement 25 percent statewide reductions in potable water use, and to increase enforcement against water waste.  The governor also ordered the State Water Resources Control Board to implement water savings among the state’s 411 water agencies. PCWA is required to reduce consumption by 32 percent.  

Tony Firenzi, PCWA’s drought manager, remarked that the State Water Board’s emergency regulations represent a significant shift. Rather than asking for specific actions from various water agencies, the state board is asking for levels of performance. Water agencies must look to their customers in an effort to achieve the goals set by the state.  Additionally, the state has also identified the possibility of conservation orders if water agencies do not perform to mandated requirements. 

“PCWA has adopted emergency water conservation regulations,” said Firenzi. “We’re at Stage 2 targeting 25 percent and we have plans to get to 32 percent.”

With its agricultural users already implementing reductions that exceed the state requirement, PCWA is turning its attention to residential and commercial customers to educate them on ways to save water and to make them aware of programs that can assist conservation efforts. 

Linda Yager, PCWA’s Deputy Director of Customer Services, spelled out agency efforts directed at residential and commercial customers. Some of those efforts include: increasing a pilot program using automated meter reading technology that provides for real-time customer water use data; restaurants are now serving water only on request; hotels are informing customers that they can opt to reuse towels and linens; PCWA is meeting with entities responsible for large landscaping features, such as parks, homeowners associations and office buildings, to see if water can be turned off to areas of unused turf; and a water waste patrol has been established to identify waste such as runoff and broken sprinklers, and inform customers about the conservation requirements. Customers can also report waste with either a phone call (530-823-4850) or online: Water Waste.

“We’re looking at large landscaping for conservation,” said Yager. “We’re not going to meet 32 percent reduction only with indoor usage. There’s a lot of unused turf. It’s green without a purpose. For instance it’s not a ball field or children’s play area.” 

PCWA is telling its customers that they will need to achieve at least the same conservation levels that were met in 2014. The water agency is offering water saving programs and services to residential, commercial and agricultural customers. They include a free water audit that can point to areas where customers can save. The agency also offers rebates for installing water-saving toilets and washing machines, and hopes to offer its turf replacement and efficient irrigation program again in the fall. Pairing with the county’s Resource Conservation District, PCWA has started a 50 percent matching agricultural/irrigation grant program.

For additional information about the many programs available including the agricultural grant program, visit the Placer County Water Agency’s website: PCWA . The State Water Board has information about water restrictions and conservation: Water Board. The Regional Water Authority also has information on drought and water-wise gardening: BeWaterSmart