San Francisco Public Utilities Commission General Manager Harlan Kelly announces a voluntary 10 percent cutback in water usage for Hetch Hetchy customers on Jan. 31, 2014. Harlan said mandatory rationing could come soon if the drought continues. (Alex Emslie/KQED)
San Francisco Public Utilities Commission General Manager Harlan Kelly announces a voluntary 10 percent cutback in water usage for Hetch Hetchy customers on Jan. 31, 2014. Harlan said mandatory rationing could come soon if the drought continues. (Alex Emslie/KQED)

4 p.m. Friday Update: The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission finalized a voluntary 10 percent cutback on water use for all Hetch Hetchy customers today as officials warned that without precipitation, mandatory rationing could be coming.

“There’s still a window of opportunity where we can get some precipitation and snow,” SFPUC General Manager Harlan Kelly said. “We use very little water in the Bay Area, but if things persist, we may have to go to more stringent requirements – to a mandatory. We will know in a month or so if we have to ratchet this up.”

Kelly said the Bay Area’s population has grown by 90,000 over the past 10 years, but daily gallons used have dropped by 45 million over the same time period.

Hetch Hetchy water system customers last saw mandatory rationing in the late ’80s and early ’90s, according to Michael Carlin, SFPUC Deputy General Manager.

“We went to 10 to 20 percent, and we were actually considering numbers greater than that. In fact, San Francisco was looking at 45 percent mandatory rationing,” he said. “The season’s not over yet, so we’re still evaluating where we stand. It’s not so much that it rains in San Francisco. It’s more important that it snows in the Sierras.”

The Sierra snowpack is currently 12 percent of average. Precipitation in the regional system watersheds is at one-quarter of normal, according to the SFPUC, and that’s the driest in recorded history.

SFPUC Assistant General Manager for Water Steve Ritchie said it could all turn around with a few good storms, however.

Ritchie said the Alameda County Water District, which relies on the now officially dry State Water Project, may need more water from its sister district.

“They’ve already indicated they’re going to need more San Francisco water,even if they get to 20 percent rationing, which is what they’re calling for in their district,” he said.

The SFPUC offers free water-saving devices like faucet aerators and efficient shower heads to San Francisco residents. Request the items at 525 Golden Gate Ave., and bring proof of address.

KQED’s Alex Emslie contributed to this report.

Original Post (Tuesday):
San Francisco officials are issuing a request for all customers of the Hetch Hetchy water system — that’s everyone in the city, plus roughly 1.8 million customers in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Alameda counties — to reduce water use by 10 percent, effective this Friday.

Tyrone Jue, a spokesman for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, said the agency is asking only for a 10 percent reduction, rather than a 20 percent voluntary cut requested by Gov. Jerry Brown, because the water district’s customers are already “very conscious about their water use.”

The SFPUC says San Francisco’s water use is about 88 gallons per capita per day — less than half of the statewide average of 197, according to the SFPUC.

The commission has published a list of now-familiar conservation tips covering everything from taking shorter showers and shutting off the tap while brushing your teeth to planting drought-resistant species.

Meantime, the East Bay Municipal Water District, which serves 1.3 million customers in Alameda and Contra Costa counties, says it’s considering whether to tap an emergency water source: the Sacramento River. As the Contra Costa Times noted over the weekend, it would be the first time EBMUD gets to use a source of supply it began paying for even before the devastating drought of 1975-77.

The district signed a federal contract in 1970 for the secondary supply from the federal Bureau of Reclamation, and it has paid the bureau $17 million, required whether or not the water was taken.

Plans for a water delivery pipeline plan were blocked for decades by resistance from Sacramento County and environmentalists.

A truce was reached in 2001 when the East Bay district and Sacramento County agreed on a $900 million joint project to deliver water to both Sacramento County and the East Bay. EBMUD put up $460 million as its share.

Under the contract, the East Bay temporarily can take up to 100 million gallons a day of Sacramento River water. The district typically uses about 170 million gallons per day of Mokelumne River water.

The Association of California Water Agencies says the following cities and districts have taken measures to cut water consumption:

Alameda County Water District: The district, which serves 336,000 people in Fremont, Newark and Union City, is asking customers to cut consumption by 20 percent.

Cloverdale (Sonoma County): Has imposed Stage 2 Water Emergency, requiring 25 percent in water consumption.

Healdsburg (Sonoma County): City Council has approved mandatory 20 percent cut in water use.

Marin Municipal Water District:: Has asked customers for an immediate 25 percent voluntary reduction in water use by district customers. As of Jan. 16, the district is pumping water from a reserve reservoir. Depending on the reservoir storage levels on April 1, MMWD may need to adopt mandatory reductions in water use.

Santa Clara Valley Water District: District, which serves 1.8 million people, says it’s monitoring water resources with the current conditions meriting a yellow “cautionary” tag.

Santa Cruz: Stage 1 water restrictions adopted last year remain in place. Asking residents to turn off automatic irrigation systems and make concerted effort to reduce water use. The San Lorenzo River, the city’s primary source of water supply, is flowing at near-record low levels last seen in 1991 during a six-year drought.

Sonoma County Water Agency won approval from the State Water Resources Control Board to reduce flows from Lake Mendocino into the Russian River in order to conserve the surface water supply.

This post contains reporting from Bay City News.


Dan Brekke

Dan Brekke is a blogger, reporter and editor for KQED News, responsible for online breaking news coverage of topics ranging from California water issues to the Bay Area's transportation challenges. In a newsroom career that began in Chicago in 1972, Dan has worked as a city and foreign/national editor for The San Francisco Examiner, editor at Wired News, deputy editor at Wired magazine, managing editor at TechTV as well as for several Web startups.

Since joining KQED in 2007, Dan has reported, edited and produced both radio and online features and breaking news pieces. He has shared in two Society of Professional Journalists Norcal Excellence in Journalism awards — for his 2012 reporting on a KQED Science series on water and power in California, and in 2014, for KQED's comprehensive reporting on the south Napa earthquake.

In addition to his 44 years of on-the-job education, Dan is a lifelong student of history and is still pursuing an undergraduate degree.

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