The impact of California's ongoing drought is being felt by municipalities, households and businesses statewide, even as state officials issue water-use guidelines and many cities wrestle with a variety of water-conservation ordinances.

Officials of some of Solano County's largest water-consuming businesses say they are doing what they can to use as little of the precious resource as possible and as efficiently as they can.

Car washes tend to make a point of conserving water even when there is no drought, owners say.

"Being in the car wash industry, water is our lifeblood, but we're the first green-certified car wash company in Solano County," said 7 Flags Car Wash owner Jack Anthony. "We reduce water usage, recycle all wash water and rinse water, after removing dissolved solids."

Don Mikolajcik of Mid City Nursery in American Canyon said he finds people generally becoming increasingly water conscious.

"They're switching to more drought-resistant plants and are doing other things, like changing the way they irrigate and stuff like that," he said. As for Mid City, it's been using strictly well water for its plants for many years, he said, offering a few tips for customers seeking to reduce water use.

"Mulching can help retain water and watering in the early morning," he said. "And we can help people switch to other kinds of plants if they want."

Restaurants, another high water use industry, are also being affected by the drought, mostly in terms of their own water bills and increasing ingredients costs, some local owners said.


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"Wholesale food prices have been impacted," said Ken Ingersoll, owner of Gracie's Family Barbecue in Vallejo. "But it's different in Vallejo than in, say, Benicia, because someone a long time ago had the foresight to secure our water rights, so Vallejo's in a much better situation than a lot of people."

Cindy Balanesi, owner of Vallejo's Good Day Cafe, said she's noticing the same things.

"(The drought) is affecting all food prices, for sure," she said. "The water bills are going up. We're trying everything we can to save on water, absolutely."

Two of Vallejo's largest water-reliant enterprises are Kaiser Permanente Medical Center and Sutter Solano Medical Center. Spokeswomen for both said water conservation is on everyone's minds.

"Concerned with growing water scarcity, Kaiser Permanente instituted a national water policy in January to reduce our water use by 20 percent and support long-term access to quality water supplies for all of our communities," spokeswoman Deniene Erickson said.

Kaiser already conserves water in a variety of ways, such as reusing or recycling water, she said. It uses the less water-reliant digital X-ray processing procedure. It also has switched to microfiber mops and uses non-potable water in cooling towers, boilers, steam systems and for irrigation.

Employees are harvesting rainwater, installing weather-monitoring irrigation controllers, low-flow plumbing fixtures, automatic faucets and dual flush toilets, Erickson said.

A Sutter spokeswoman said saving water also is on the agenda there.

"At this time, Sutter Health recommends to its affiliated facilities full participation in the reduction of irrigation of landscaping and outdoor washing activities," spokeswoman Liz Madison said. "We also recommend facilities review their water-consumption activities and identify opportunities to enact water-conservation measures. The goal is to develop measures that permanently reduce water use while continuing to provide the high-quality care and exceptional service our patients expect and deserve."

The Solano County Fairgrounds has been trying to save water for months, spokeswoman Debbie Egideo said.

"Beyond the normal water usage during the fair (restrooms, cleaning, livestock needs, etc.), we have very little unusual water demands during fair time," she said. "In fact, we save quite a bit of water as the lawns are not watered during the fair as there are stages, entertainment and picnic grounds in those areas."

On the other side of Fairgrounds Drive, Six Flags Discovery Kingdom officials say the park "has always been very conscientious about water usage, from the park attractions to guest and employee areas."

"Our systems are self-contained, and we filter and reuse most of our water, including fountains," spokeswoman Nancy Chan said. "Water at water-based attractions such as Monsoon Falls, White Water Safari and Tsunami Soaker is treated for health standards and recycled."

The park also recently upgraded its irrigation systems, planted drought-resistant landscaping and installed modern low-flow fixtures in renovations to guest restrooms, Chan said.

Benicia's Valero refinery also relies heavily on water. A drought surcharge proposed by the city could double its raw water costs. Valero already pays about $1 million annually for untreated water used in its refining processes, according to the city.

The refinery uses about 4,700 acre-feet of untreated water annually -- about 45 percent of Benicia's total water supply. An acre foot of water is about 326,000 gallons.

Benicia's drought surcharge plan is still a work in progress, so it's unclear what Valero's surcharge might be, Valero spokeswoman Sue Fisher-Jones said.

"Valero has committed to paying its fair share of the water surcharges alongside other Benicia water customers, both commercial and residential," she said. "Valero continues to demonstrate its commitment to reducing water consumption, both untreated water (used in the refining process) and treated water (used for office buildings and landscaping)."

Refinery officials have a water-conservation project for the boilers that is expected to save about 38 million gallons of untreated water annually. The condensate recovery project is already saving 23 million gallons of untreated water every year, she said.

"Additionally, our outdoor landscape watering is now restricted to just one day per week, which exceeds the city of Benicia mandate," Fisher-Jones said. "Valero voluntarily began its water-conservation efforts when it acquired the Benicia refinery in 2000. We have exceeded a 15 percent reduction in untreated water use."

For information, and tips for conserving water at home or work, contact your local water provider or visit SolanoSavesWater.org.