Paso, Atascadero tweak their water conservation strategies

Water providers in the North County’s two largest communities recently made changes to their water conservation efforts.

The Paso Robles City Council authorized spending $121,000 for new and continued water conservation programs from the city’s water fund reserves to help users cut down and to comply with state mandates.

Some efforts will be scaled back from 2009’s aggressive push of hiring 15 to 20 people to regularly hang notices on customers’ doors reminding them to cut back water use.

That, among other efforts, helped the city’s roughly 10,000 water customers — representing about 29,950 people — use 20 percent less water than they typically would.

Meanwhile, Atascadero Mutual Water Co. lifted its Stage 2 measures, which placed mandatory limits on lawn watering because the recent rainfall left staff optimistic that its aquifer will be fully replenished by June 30, according to the company.

However, new state-mandated landscape regulations coming to Atascadero will continue similar outdoor conservation and incentives.

In April 2009, Atascadero Mutual Water Co.’s elevated water shortage condition set out to cut water use up to 35 percent because little rain had fallen that year.

Its 10,338 customers — or roughly 30,000 people — reduced water use by 15 percent during the summer months, officials said.

Paso Robles is keeping its Stage 2 measures, which are voluntary now and become mandatory again from May 1 to Oct. 15.

The city uses a different groundwater basin with different constraints, Christopher Alakel, Paso Robles’ water resources manager said.

Paso Robles allotted $150,000 to the city’s first organized mandatory conservation effort in 2009.

Only $100,000 of that was spent.

“Customers jumped on board much sooner than we thought they would,” Alakel said, so the city was able to lighten its enforcement efforts and keep the savings in the water fund reserves.

More money was requested this year because of the new annual water survey program to be provided to customers free of charge, Alakel said.

Water levels in Atascadero’s wells have increased dramatically with the abundant rainfall received to date, water company general manager John Neil said.

The static water level in one of its monitoring wells at the northern end of the well field across from Chico Road was at its lowest in October 2009 at 85.7 feet below ground surface.

On Feb. 1, it had filled to 17.8 feet below ground surface and was still rising, Neil wrote in his report to the company’s board of directors.

Total rainfall around that time for the current rain year, July 1 to June 30, was 19.04 inches — 108.5 percent of the average annual rainfall of 17.55 inches, the report continues.

Paso Robles’ revised plan to reduce faucet flow

Free customer water surveys for homes and businesses

Cost to the city: $22,000 for staff, materials and marketing

How: A part-time temporary staffer to visit the property, talk with customers, find ways to cut down on water use and install the free low-flow showerheads and toilet repair kits as needed.

Toilet and ‘cash-for-grass’ rebates

Cost to the city: $18,000 for 50 toilet rebates and 30 grass rebates annually and staff time

How: Pays up to $125 back for installing low flush toilets and 50 cents per square foot of turf removed and replaced with low-water-use landscaping with a maximum of $500 back per customer.

Continued publicity activities

Cost to the city: $60,000 for printing, staff costs and other publicity as needed

How: Additional low-water landscape conversion workshops, advertising, three to four bill stuffers per year to promote conservation, direct mailers, signage, classroom presentations and annual dues to California Urban Water Conservation Council.

Seasonal enforcement staffing for Level 2 mandatory watering restrictions

Cost to the city: $21,000 for staffing

How: Hire two part-time staffers at 25 hours per week from May 1 to Oct. 15 to enforce mandatory nonwatering days, the same as in 2009.