Sebastopol launches water conservation program

By Sydnie Conner, Townsy Media, May 29, 2021

Water faucet

In response to Governor Gavin Newsom’s declaration of a drought emergency in the Russian River watershed, the Sebastopol City Council approved a water conservation resolution at its May 4 council meeting, moving the city into Stage 1 of the city’s Water Shortage Contingency Plan, which was passed during the region’s last drought in 2014.

The first stage of this plan requires that “the water resources available to the City be put to the maximum beneficial use, to promote water conservation and the efficient use of potable water, by eliminating water waste, and by prohibiting use of wasteful equipment.” If the goal of a 10% reduction in water usage is not met, the city would move to Stage 2 — mandatory compliance to water conservation policies. (See a description of all three stages at the bottom of this article.)

In a city like Sebastopol, with its older buildings and antiquated infrastructure, water conservation in a drought emergency can be a challenge. Even if residents want to save water, their efforts can be hindered by their homes’ older plumbing features, like inefficient faucets, showerheads and toilets.

Sebastopol city officials say that water-efficient upgrades to home plumbing are a step in the right direction.

Water Upgrades $ave: a new program to help save water

In an effort to bolster water conservation, Sebastopol city officials recommend enrolling in the new “Water Upgrades $ave” program, launched this month by the Bay Area Regional Energy Network (BayREN), a collaboration of the nine Bay Area counties that provides regional-scale energy efficiency programs, services and resources.

According to program manager Chris Cone, Water Upgrade $ave is a program in which customers of municipal water utilities can upgrade their plumbing structures to water-efficient models that automatically cut down on water usage. For instance, toilets can be upgraded to models that take fewer gallons of water per flush, and showerheads can be upgraded to use less water. Currently the upgrades offered in Sebastopol are for indoor plumbing, but residents can expect upgrades to their outdoor water systems  to be available this summer.

The cost of those installations is covered through their water bill savings. The Association of Bay Area Governments suggests that this offers a chance to serve low income residents who may not have been able to upgrade their water system and save on their utility bill. Cone says that customers involved in the pilot programs in Windsor and Hayward saved between 20% and 30% on their water bill. That savings is then applied to the cost of purchasing and installing the new water-efficient plumbing features.

How does it work? A city press release described the process this way: “It’s simple to participate — enroll online or by phone and schedule a free home assessment to select the water efficiency upgrades that make the most sense for your property. The program installs the upgrades with little-to-no upfront cost, and you pay a fixed on-bill charge that is lower than the estimated savings — so you begin saving right away.”

Cone attributed this program to a shift in California conservation policy from seasonal emergency response to “a standard way of life.”

Sebastopol’s city-owned water system is the first utility to join BayREN’s Water Upgrades $aves program.

According to Vice Mayor Sarah Glade Gurney, Sebastopol’s utility signed onto the program last year, but she said it was delayed for a year due to the pandemic. Water Upgrades $ave launched in early May 2021 amidst worsening drought conditions.

Approximately 50 customers have already signed up for their free audit, Cone says. Contractors began auditing their first homes on May 24.

Gurney, who represents Sebastopol in the Regional Climate Protection Authority, spearheaded Sebastopol’s adaptation of the Water Upgrades $ave program.

“Sebastopol had the foresight to enroll even before the drought was declared,” Gurney said. “Our citizens, who are already doing a lot to conserve water, have the opportunity to do more.”

For more information on Water Upgrades $ave, go to the program website www.waterupgradessave.org or call 877-846-8795. For more water conservation information, see the city of Sebastopol’s water conservation page.

water conservation program brochure


Sebastopol’s Three Stages of Water Conservation

From Sebastopol’s Water Shortage Contingency Plan. See the whole document here: https://sebastopol.municipal.codes/SMC/13.06.070

A. Stage 1 – Voluntary Conservation. In order to achieve an overall system-wide reduction goal of 10 percent, all potable water customers of the City are requested to:

1. Apply irrigation water only during the evening and early morning hours to reduce evaporation losses.

2. Inspect all irrigation systems, repair leaks, and adjust spray heads to provide optimum coverage and eliminate avoidable overspray.

3. For irrigation valves controlling water applied to lawns, vary the minutes of run time consistent with fluctuations in weather.

4. Reduce minutes of run time for each irrigation cycle if water begins to run off to gutters and ditches before the irrigation cycle is completed.

5. Become conversant with and strictly adhere to this chapter.

6. Utilize water conservation rebate and giveaway programs to replace water guzzling plumbing fixtures and appliances with water efficient models.

7. Utilize City information regarding using water efficiently, reading water meters, repairing ordinary leaks, and how to make your landscape a water efficient landscape.

B. Stage 2 – Mandatory Compliance – Water Alert. The City Council may by resolution declare a Conservation Stage 2 upon recommendation by the City Manager based on water supply and delivery projections by the Public Works Superintendent that an overall system-wide reduction of 25 percent is necessary, taking into consideration projections and estimates made by the Public Works Superintendent pertaining to the City’s water supply. In order to achieve an overall system-wide reduction of 25 percent, the following activities shall be prohibited:

1. Nonessential uses of water, including the following:

a. Limit outdoor irrigation of ornamental landscapes or turf with potable water by the persons it serves to no more than two days per week.

b. Refilling or initial filling of a swimming pool.

c. Noncommercial washing of privately owned motor vehicles, trailers and boats except from a bucket and except that a hose equipped with a shut-off nozzle may be used to rinse the vehicle.

d. Any use of water from a fire hydrant except for fighting fires or essential construction needs.

2. The City Council shall have the authority to prohibit other activities and water uses upon the recommendation of the City Manager that such additional measures are necessary to achieve an overall system-wide reduction of 25 percent in water usage.

C. Stage 3 – Mandatory Compliance – Water Emergency. The City Council may, by resolution, declare a Conservation Stage 3 upon recommendation by the City Manager based on water supply and delivery projections by the Public Works Superintendent that an overall system-wide reduction of 30 percent is necessary, taking into consideration projections and estimates made by the Public Works Superintendent pertaining to the City’s water supply. In order to achieve an overall system-wide reduction of 30 percent, the following activities shall be prohibited:

1. Any activities prohibited during a Conservation Stage 2.

2. Watering any residential or commercial or industrial area lawn with potable water, at any time day or night.

3. Planting any new landscaping, except for drought resistant landscaping.

4. All day and nighttime irrigation sprinkling unless only a handheld nozzle is used. An exception will be made to permit drip irrigation for established perennial plants and trees using manual or automatic time-controlled water application.

5. Planting of new annual ornamental plants, flowers or vines may not occur until the Stage 3 emergency is over.

6. The City Council shall have the authority to prohibit other activities and water uses upon the recommendation of the City Manager that such additional measures are necessary to achieve an overall system-wide reduction of 30 percent in water usage.