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Petaluma’s Water Conservation Program

I watched the Sept. 10 [Petaluma] City Council meeting on the water
conservation proposal. It was interesting.

An out-of-the-box citizen suggestion was that cities and the county
construction industry consider supporting a modest pipeline project
paralleling Dry Creek to access the tremendous supply of water in
Lake Sonoma behind Warm Springs Dam. Actually a good idea, but
unlikely to get other Sonoma County cities to join in or to receive
environmentalist acceptance.

Leaks were purported to make up 10 percent of water use. A lot of
water could be saved and water bills lowered if users would check for
leaks and get them fixed. My thought here is that the city could help
locate these leaks using winter billing information and an on-call
water technician.

I just went through this myself with two toilets with leaks that
weren’t detectable using the dye packets available from the water
department. My meter was replaced with a newer one several years ago
that showed minor leaks with a visual indicator called a telltale.
That’s how I knew I had a water leak. Between reduced water use and
sewer charges, I hope to save more than $50 a month.

A friend went to a garden club meeting and heard a master gardener
state that lawns could be kept green with only five minutes of water
a day if the lawns were also properly fertilized. Here’s another area
where the city might sponsor such people to talk at public forums and
show people how to save landscape water.

The current free handouts and generalized suggestions aren’t enough
to get many people to actually do something. As the Realtors, who
were at the Sept. 10 meeting to protest mandatory water inspections
and retrofits at the time of sale of homes, pointed out, the city
isn’t very good at marketing. This is an area where someone other
than an engineer might be asked to assist.

A concern of Councilmember Teresa Barrett was that certain retrofits
might not be practical in some older homes. I think this would call
for some sort of appeal board to be given authority to arbitrate
conflicts. In general, I think there should be an appeal board (water
commission?) to look into any city water or sewer complaints.

I’m uneasy with the implementation of this conservation plan being
totally in the hands of staff. I’m also uneasy that this proposal
goes to 2025 without any mandated periodic official reviews.

The Realtors’ concerns will be addressed and staff’s plan will stay
on course (although I don’t support it). The City Council may seem to
have caved in to the Realtors’ pressure, but not really. They didn’t
want to take on the Realtors and when someone suggested that the
trigger for retrofit of existing home water appliances be switched
from point-of-sale to “change of service,” several council members
smiled.

This change would mean that after escrow closed and the new owner
went to the city to have the water put in his name, he would be
informed about the “change of service” trigger for upgrades.

This isn’t a fact yet, but I have no doubt that will be the
approximate direction it goes. Once the Realtors are satisfied there
will be no complications with escrow, they’ll back off and the water
department will still get the hook it wants on retrofitting
appliances and repairing leaks at each sale.

As a bonus for the department, anytime a rental home changes hands,
they will get another bite of the apple. As a matter of fact, under
Proposal No. 19, sub-metering each rental unit in multi-unit
apartments, they might get to reconfigure not only the water system
at a unit, but recalculate the computation of the wastewater fee.

With no appeal process (such as from a water commission) this will
create a 1984-type omnipotent department. But one that will use less
water.

Jack Balsh, retired transportation planner and former Petaluma
City Council member.