As California's drought drags on, East Contra Costa cities are asking residents to cut out leisurely showers and stop overwatering lawns.

Although they have stopped short of imposing mandatory restrictions, three of East County's four cities have adopted resolutions urging residents to reduce their water use.

Pittsburg has led the charge, its council stepping up efforts to remind the public of no-nos -- overwatering gardens or failing to fix a leak -- that the city has had on the books for years.

"They're pretty basic -- don't waste water," said Director of Water Utilities Walter Pease.

The city redoubled its efforts this spring by including a newsletter with its April and May water bills asking residents to cut their consumption by 15 percent.

A drought-resistant monkey plant, is seen at the home of Carolee James in Oakley, Calif., on Saturday, June 21, 2014. Other plants in her backyard are
A drought-resistant monkey plant, is seen at the home of Carolee James in Oakley, Calif., on Saturday, June 21, 2014. Other plants in her backyard are drought-tolerant, never needing much water and keeping her water bill around forty dollars a month. Some of the flora in her garden never need water even during the blistering summer months. (Dan Rosenstrauch/Bay Area News Group) ( DAN ROSENSTRAUCH )

The result was a 13.5 percent drop citywide in April compared with usage totals a year earlier; May's figures showed an 11.5 percent decline even though there was very little rain that month and it's the time of year when individuals start watering their yards more frequently, Pease said.

"I've never seen people not step up to conserve when we really needed them to," he said, noting that Pittsburg didn't have any problem meeting the 25 percent mandatory reduction that its supplier imposed in 1977 during one of California's driest years ever.

Although Gov. Jerry Brown is seeking a 20 percent reduction in the state's water use, Pease says Pittsburg set a more modest goal because it has a water "savings account" in the form of Los Vaqueros Reservoir.

Contra Costa Water District, which owns and operates the facility that serves all the cities in East County, increased its storage capacity two years ago from 100,000 acre-feet of water to 160,000; the reservoir currently contains about 30 percent more than it could hold originally.

Antioch residents responded last month in similar fashion to those in Pittsburg, reducing their water consumption by 12 percent compared with a year earlier after the City Council distributed fliers also requesting a 15 percent curtailment.

Carolee James lightly waters her tomato plant at her home in Oakley, Calif., on Saturday, June 21, 2014. Other plants in her backyard are drought-tolerant,
Carolee James lightly waters her tomato plant at her home in Oakley, Calif., on Saturday, June 21, 2014. Other plants in her backyard are drought-tolerant, never needing much water and keeping her water bill around forty dollars a month. Some of the flora in her garden never need water even during the blistering summer months. (Dan Rosenstrauch/Bay Area News Group) ( DAN ROSENSTRAUCH )

CCWD, which initially adopted that goal for its customers, is advising against watering plants between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. to minimize the amount lost to evaporation and is discouraging people from refilling fountains or ponds that don't recirculate water.

Brentwood officials in April adopted a resolution asking residents to reduce their water use by 10 percent, and the city itself has started using more recycled water to irrigate parks, said Chris Ehlers, assistant director of public works.

Oakley hasn't set a specific goal for voluntary cutbacks nor has its supplier, Diablo Water District, although that agency's Board of Directors is scheduled to discuss the possibility of doing that this month.

Meanwhile, General Manager Mike Yeraka says his agency is monitoring water meters and calling individuals who are using excessive amounts of water in hopes of encouraging them to change their habits.

One person who doesn't need any reminding is Carolee James, who says her monthly water bill has never gone over $40.

The master gardener filled her backyard with native plants -- many of them drought-tolerant -- when she moved to Oakley in 2011.

Some of them need no watering at all; the rest she typically only waters once a week when it's hot.

And inside the house, James exercises common sense: "I just make sure I don't let water run," she said.

Even if the Discovery Bay Community Services District Board of Directors asked residents to reduce their demand on the town's six wells, most wouldn't be able to gauge their success because they don't have meters, said Water and Wastewater Manager Virgil Koehne, noting that those approximately 3,000 customers pay a flat fee instead.

He monitors those who do have meters, however, and also drives around the community looking for signs of waste. If Koehne spots a leak or water running off lawns into the gutter, he'll alert the offenders by letter or pay them a visit.

Although he expects aquifers to restore the wells to normal levels this winter, Koehne said the town is asking residents to go easy in the meantime because it's impossible to tell how large the underground streams are and whether they'll dry up.

The Rio Vista City Council recently updated an ordinance that now clearly spells out what constitutes wasting water, making it easier for authorities to impose fines of up to $500 and disconnect water service.

The amended municipal code also creates an incentive for landlords to monitor tenants' usage by making them responsible for paying the water bill if their renters don't.

Contact Rowena Coetsee at 925-779-7141.

Follow her at Twitter.com/RowenaCoetsee.

WASTE NOT, WANT NOT
It pays to save: Water districts are offering rebates and free water-saving fixtures as an incentive for residential, commercial and municipal customers to reduce their consumption.
  • Contra Costa Water District will pay homeowners up to $1,000 at $1 per square foot of front lawn they replace with less thirsty landscaping plants. The offer is good in Antioch, Bay Point, Pittsburg, Oakley and parts of Brentwood.
    To apply or for more information, call 925-688-8320 or go to www.ccwater.com
  • You can get up to $200 back for buying a water-saving washing machine this year. Go to www.waterenergysavings.com to apply or call 800-933-9555.
  • Install a high-efficiency toilet and get $125. Call 925-688-8320 or go to www.ccwater.com/conserve/rebates_rtoilets.asp# to find out whether you're eligible.
  • Money also is available to those who replace existing irrigation equipment with more water-friendly sprinkler heads and other devices. The same goes for homeowners who buy "smart sprinklers" that automatically adjust the volume of water they deliver according to the time of year. For more information, call 925-688-8321.