Drought Crisis: SF won’t know water-reduction target for another month 

click to enlarge January marked the first time since 1930 that no rain fell in the Hetch Hetchy area. - DAN SCHREIBER/2012 S.F. EXAMINER FILE PHOTO
  • January marked the first time since 1930 that no rain fell in the Hetch Hetchy area.
California is running out of water, but San Francisco still has a three-year supply.

That means that Gov. Jerry Brown’s executive order Wednesday to cut water use across the state by 25 percent doesn’t directly apply to Bay Area water users, who will need to wait to find out how much more water they’ll have to conserve.

Water agencies across the state will be given different reduction targets based upon per capita usage and past conservation efforts. The state will figure out this “sliding scale” for water conservation over the next few weeks, according to Felicia Marcus, the chair of the State Water Resources Control Board.

Local water users would then need to start cutting use sometime in May. Water agencies that don’t meet their targets could be fined up to $10,000 a day, Marcus said.

In San Francisco, water use is about 45 gallons a day per person, according to Steven Ritchie, assistant general manager of water for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.

That’s as much as one-quarter of the water use of other urban water districts, meaning The City’s reduction target will almost certainly be lower than Brown’s statewide request.

“It’s hard to have people using that little water reduce use by another 25 percent,” Ritchie said.

Last year, Mayor Ed Lee asked water users in The City to cut back by 10 percent. After an initial period of increased water use, The City reduced its consumption by 14 percent for the year.

So far in 2015, conservation has lagged. Through the first 12 weeks of the year — the most recent data available — SFPUC water users have met the 10 percent goal only six times, according to SFPUC data.

The SFPUC delivers water to about 2.6 million customer accounts in The City, Palo Alto, San Jose and elsewhere in the Bay Area. Daily water use ranges from 150 million gallons a day in the winter to about 220 million gallons a day in the summer.

Anyone who uses too much water risks a $500 fine, but the SFPUC has yet to impose penalties.

Water users who violated rules imposed last year — including using water to clean driveways and irrigating gardens improperly — have thus far escaped with warnings, according to SFPUC spokesman Tyrone Jue. The City is still almost entirely reliant on water imported from Yosemite, a situation that will continue during the near future.

Wells that pump groundwater will go online in 2017. Construction on a water recycling plant on The City’s west side is scheduled to begin next year.

The Hetch Hetchy Reservoir in Yosemite, from which 85 percent of that water is drawn, is at about 69 percent of capacity, Ritchie said. The entire SFPUC system is at 57.1 percent of capacity, enough for three years of water even if it never rained again, he said.

The SFPUC is on good footing, but is still looking for other sources of water. In March, the SFPUC asked Central Valley irrigation districts if it could buy up to 700 million gallons of water, with deliveries as soon as this summer.

So far, the parched farmers have said there is no extra water available.


About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has worked as a reporter in San Francisco since 2008, with an emphasis on city governance and politics, The City’s neighborhoods, race, poverty and the drug war.
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