Drought Q&A: Do mountain towns have to conserve water?

Mountain towns like Truckee don’t have to conserve water because we get it first. Right? – Scott Berelson, Truckee

As with all things water related, it depends on where you live and where your water comes from. A “we get it first” presumption does not necessarily apply.

In the case of Truckee, you are correct that no conservation orders are in place. Truckee gets its water from a large groundwater aquifer in the Martis Valley, which is not experiencing shortages.

However, the Truckee Donner Public Utility District, which delivers that water to Truckee residents, is still encouraging customers to conserve through a “Watch your Water” campaign, said spokesman Steven Poncelet.

Also, Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday issued an emergency proclamation urging all Californians to water landscaping only twice weekly, limit vehicle washing, and not clean driveways, decks and other hard surfaces with water. And he directed all water agencies that have not already imposed these requirements on customers to do so. These measures would apply in Truckee and other mountain towns.

Customers in the Truckee Donner district have relatively sophisticated water meters that allow them to track their water usage online, in near real-time, and the agency wants them to do so. One reason is that, based on meter readings, the district was able to determine that more than 10 percent of its customers had water leaks, and it is now offering rebates to encourage people to fix those leaks.

Poncelet said the district also wants customers to conserve because the region is clearly in a drought, as witnessed by relatively light snowfall throughout the winter, and to show support for the statewide drought emergency. It wants the region to be ready in case a prolonged drought does affect Truckee’s water supplies.

The situation is a little different in South Lake Tahoe, which also depends on groundwater. The South Tahoe Public Utility District has adopted a “Stage 1” conservation order. Though not as strict as measures in place across most of California, the order bans hosing off sidewalks, driveways and other hard surfaces; it allows landscape watering only on alternate days based on street address; and it bans watering of natural landscaping and vacant lots.

– Matt Weiser

Are we allowed to fill above-ground pools? I bought mine at the end of last year. It’s 18 feet in diameter by 4 feet deep. – S. Smith, Citrus Heights

Your pool is OK to fill under current water restrictions for your area. But if you’re going to fill it for the summer, do it now, because restrictions could get tougher.

“Most agencies are not restricting pool-filling right now,” said Amy Talbot of the Regional Water Authority, the umbrella agency that represents water providers in Sacramento, El Dorado and Placer counties. “They do in later stages (of drought restrictions).”

The same drought rules apply to above-ground and in-ground pools.

Stage 3 restrictions are in effect in Citrus Heights, as well as in nearby Roseville and San Juan water districts. The restrictions discourage pool-filling but don’t ban it. They state, “Pool draining and refilling shall be allowed only for maintenance, health or structural considerations.”

Citrus Heights Water District considers filling one’s pool for summer use as “maintenance.”

But if Citrus Heights moves to Stage 4, things change, Talbot said. “Stage 4 Water Crisis (rules) state, ‘No potable (drinking) water from the district’s system shall be used to fill or refill swimming pools, artificial lakes, ponds or streams. Water use for ornamental ponds and fountains is prohibited.’ ”

Other local districts have similar policies in Stage 4 restrictions. Find out more about restrictions for specific water agencies (and tips for saving water) at www.BeWaterSmart.info.

– Debbie Arrington

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