If residents consume water at a rate projected by the city’s General Plan, the city would face a water supply deficit of 700 acre feet, or more than 282 million gallons, in the year 2030. But city staff seeks to implement programs that could curb water consumption to match the amount allocated by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.
Every year, the public utilities commission provides Redwood City with 12,200 acre feet of water from the Hetch Hetchy reservoir, according to Public Works Superintendent Justin Ezell. But the city’s General Plan, adopted in October 2010, anticipates a higher water demand than is currently provided. Though the city would meet its 2015 and 2020 targets, it would exceed the 2030 target.
“I’m alarmed by this discrepancy, especially if there’s a drought,” Ezell said.
He presented a workshop Wednesday night to get feedback from residents regarding the five-year Urban Water Management Plan, or the blueprint for the community’s water supply.
Increase Recycled Water Usage
Recycling non-potable water in toilets and for landscape irrigation is a highly effective way to reduce the city’s water consumption, Ezell said. He said he hopes the council would agree to change certain policies that restrict recycled water use in areas like schools and parks.
Staff will present the plan at the June 13 council meeting when the council can either approve the plan or ask for more changes. Staff must submit a final plan to the state by July 1.
When the council adopted its recycled water policy in 2008, there were many more concerns about the safety of recycled water. The city was one of the first in the region to adopt a recycled water ordinance.
In an effort to pass the program, the council inserted a clause saying that existing areas where children spent a large portion of time, meaning parks and schools, would not use recycled water.
Scientific studies over the past few years have debunked the myth that treated recycled water is still somehow less safe, according to Valerie Young, environmental planning and water reuse consultant for the city. When treated, recycled water is even safe to swim and wade in, just not to drink. The city does routine testing of this recycled water and has yet to find any evidence of poor quality.
“There’s been some controversy about the cleanliness and safety of recycled water,” Councilmember President Jeff Gee said. “But these concerns are based more on perception than science.”
Gee is the president of the Redwood Shores Homeowners Association and he said he's seen a decline in water consumption since the association has begun using more recycled water.
He added that increased water conservation could prompt the city to sell its extra water allotment units to neighboring cities, in a sort of cap and trade program for water.
As general acceptance has become more widespread, Ezell suggested amending the city ordinance to incorporate recycled water in existing schools and parks, not just new ones. Community members at Wednesday's workshop all agreed that expanding recycled water service to the entire city would alleviate the water shortfall problem.
However, community members told staff that mandating any policy would likely face resistance. They suggested, instead, allowing residents to choose to use recycled water and offer incentives for industrial companies.
Changing Water Rate Calculations
Another option, if adopted by all residents could be the solution to the water shortfall, Ezell said. Irrigation customers, schools and homeowners associations that already use this system have reduced their water consumption by an average of 15 percent.
Each month, Redwood City residents, conversely, pay their water bill based on standardized rates. However, if all city residents used this system and reduced consumption by 15 percent, the city could reach its 2030 target from the public utilies commission.
Current Water Rate Structure Units Cost/unit 1-10 $2.40 11-25 $3.05 26-50 $4.98 >51 $7.05
Large families and large businesses that exceed 50 units often don’t have many monetary incentives to conserve water because it’s difficult to reduce water usage enough to descend into a lower tier, Ezell explained.
The customized budget-based water structure would determine each resident’s “budget,” or number of units they should be consuming, and then charge based on the ability to stay within their budget.
Budget-based Water Structure Tier Cost/unit 0-100% $2.72 100-200% $5.44 >200% $8.16
The budget is calculated based on:
- the number of people living in the household or apartment
- the irrigated landscape
- the size of a pool (if any)
An example calculation Ezell provided was:
- Number of residents in the household: 3 = 6 units
- A pool: 1 unit
- 1500 sq. ft. of irrigated area (landscaping): 13 units
For a total budget of 20 units
Ezell said this system was much more incentivized, providing residents a unit number to stay under. He said that he didn’t want to penalize large families or those with pools and lawns who wanted to add aesthetic value to their homes.
But residents responded that there should be some accountability for those who have multiple children and excessive landscaping. Some even suggested a “two-child budget” that would have different unit rates after the second child, or different unit measures for various landscaping features.
Ezell and staff said they would consider more nuanced tiers regarding the percentages and even the factors calculating the budget.
Online tools on the city’s website could help residents track their water usage, weekly, daily and even hourly. The city could even notify residents if appliances were leaking.
Residents again suggested making this system optional to avoid potential backlash.
Impact on Proposed Development Projects
However, there was financial inequity for those locations that didn’t have the pipe infrastructure to use recycled water, like the old Mel’s Bowl site that will soon house , for example. To participate in a recycled water program, the site would have to use dual plumbing, using the regular pump in addition to the recycled water infrastructure. This would post an extra cost burden.
Another development proposal has for a lack of a long-term water source. has When asked to comment on the controversial Saltworks development proposal, Ezell said that was a separate issue because the environmental impact report hadn’t even been completed.
“We’re focusing on expanding recycled water service and other water consumption reducing efforts to the community now,” Ezell said.
The residential development on the Mel’s Bowl site is still going through zoning ordinance amendments to comply with the new General Plan. The Saltworks site hasn’t even begun its for the draft environmental impact report, required of all development projects that don’t align with the city’s land ordinances. The community will have a chance to submit more comments after reviewing a revised application from the developer.