Published: Sunday, April 21, 2013

Windsor’s innovative water conservation program has been extended for another year by Town Council members, despite some who said it’s too early to pronounce it a success.

The council unanimously agreed to extend the program through June 2014, saying it is off to a promising start.

“I think it’s working now,” said Mayor Robin Goble, who last year voted against the pilot program when it was implemented on a 3-2 vote.

While too early to make a definitive judgment, “It’s going the right way,” she said.

The program allows residents to install devices such as low-flow toilets and showerheads, and convert lawns to drought-resistant landscaping, without any upfront cost or taking on of debt.

Financed by the town, homeowners and renters pay for the upgrades over five to 15 years with a small surcharge on their bill.

The town promises the savings on their water-sewer bill will be greater than the monthly surcharges.

There were some delays in getting the program operating after it was approved, but those appear to be resolved.

More than 300 residential customers have enrolled in Windsor Efficiency PAYS, or Pay As You Save, as it is called. They are saving an average of about $30 per month on their bi-monthly utility bills and an average of 10,000 gallons annually per household, according to town officials.

But some Windsor residents, like Fran Tanti, are reporting much more dramatic savings. “I was astounded by the amount,” Tanti told the council. “My bill went from $175 to $66, a savings of $109.”

“I am so enthused by this program,” she said.

Windsor hopes to have 2,000 customers, or one-quarter of the town’s households, signed up. That would save more than 30 million gallons annually as outdoor and indoor water uses are reduced.

“I can feel it taking off,” said Councilwoman Debora Fudge. “I’m getting emails from people who are excited. The momentum is just starting.”

Councilman Sam Salmon said the program is producing results and makes residents feel good about where they live. Participants “feel they can do something day-to-day to help the environment,” he said.

Councilman Bruce Okrepkie noted that water is a precious commodity and essential to conserve.

“It’s too early to get a sense of the program,” he said “but everyone I talk to thinks highly of it and what it’s doing.”

Councilman Steve Allen last year cast a “no” vote on the pilot program, expressing qualms about the bids submitted by the landscape contractor who replaces the turf for participants. He said the bid was half the amount of the next highest, indicating something was amiss and the bids should have been thrown out.

This year he voted in favor of extending the program and expressed excitement about the amount of water savings participants are achieving inside their homes.

Ann Hancock, executive director of the Santa Rosa-based County Climate Protection Campaign, commended the council for its leadership on the issue.

“It’s a very, very promising program,” she said.

Windsor Efficiency PAYS is getting regional and national attention, according to Lauren Casey, a manager with the Sonoma County Climate Protection Authority.

“There’s growing momentum from positive referrals,” she said.

You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or