Redwood City will look for creative ways to expand its use of recycled water, following orders given by city leaders on Monday night.
A report presented at the City Council meeting by Superintendent Justin Ezell showed the city's water usage is well below the target the city has set for itself, which is in part because of the city's use of recycled water.
Council members voted unanimously to move ahead with plans to expand where in the city recycled water could be used, and possibly to use it for limited purposes at schools and hospitals.
The council instructed the city's Utility Commission to investigate ways to sell some of its recycled water to neighboring cities in the region that might be interested in purchasing it.
Council unanimously approved the city's water plan by a 6-0 vote, as Mayor Jeff Ira was absent from the meeting.
Much attention has been paid to water rates in cities across the Peninsula as the regional distributor, San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, has begun charging cities more for water.
The SFPUC is paying a share toward the construction project intended to improve the water transportation system from Hetch Hetchy Reservoir in Yosemite National Park.
That cost has resulted in a rate hike to cities, which in turn have passed the burden onto their customers.
The focus on water also is heightened by a new law requiring cities to decrease their water use 20 percent by 2020.
But according to Ezell, Redwood City has met those requirements by using a unique combination of opportunities. Those include recycling water and offering water customers incentives for conservation.
Ezell said now it is time for the city to press itself to find ways to expand on the opportunities already in place, such as its recycled water program. He said he would like to see the boundaries for recycled water moved into central Redwood City.
As well, Ezell said he'd like to see schools and parks use recycled water for landscape irrigation purposes, which would save the city millions of gallons of water annually.
Though the council was in favor of expanding the recycled water service area, some were tentative to apply its use in public areas. Some residents have expressed concern about potential health hazards caused by exposing children to recycled water.
Councilman Jeff Gee said the city should hold off on using recycled water for irrigation in residential areas due to the health concerns of some community members. He suggested incentives for neighborhoods willing to use recycled water in their communities first, thus creating a pilot program toward more widespread use.
Councilwoman Barbara Pierce agreed, and said the council should gather more resident support before expanding the use of recycled water into neighborhoods.
Ezell said that there are no reported cases of illness attributed to people being exposed to recycled water. He said is planning to use recycled water for its laundry service.
Pierce said that while she is aware of the science behind the cleanliness and safety of recycled water, the community might not accept being exposed to it.
"Battling people with science can sometimes be a useless effort, so i'm not willing to do that," said Pierce.
Gee said he'd be willing to use recycled water for toilets and plumbing in parks and schools. But Gee said the city should look further into developing a business plan to sell recycled water to other cities in the region.
"I think we should start planning a formula for a buy-in. I think we should get ready for that because demand will emerge," said Gee.
Environmental advocate and former Palo Alto mayor Peter Drekmeier spoke during public comment to council members and praised Redwood City for its cutting edge approach to water conservation.
"I want to thank Redwood City for being a leader," he said, and encouraged the city's leadership to move forward with expanding its use of recycled water.