Recent storm helped rain totals, but water emergency still looms for SF in drought year 

click to enlarge rainfall
  • Jeff Chiu/AP FILE PHoto
  • Although storms brought much-needed rainfall to the Bay Area and the state this month, a top official at the SFPUC says, “We still have a long way to go.”
Recent rains have prevented this year from being the driest on record, but the limited precipitation has yet to wash the state’s drought away. A storm that rolled through the region between Feb. 8 and Feb. 11 dropped a healthy amount of snow in the Sierra Nevada, enough so that the current drought is no longer projected to be the worst dry spell in the state’s recorded history, according to the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.

“That was a big help, this last storm,” Steven Ritchie, the SFPUC’s assistant general manager for water, said Feb. 11. He added that, “We still have a long way to go.”

After the steady rain from the last storm and the snow, the current water-year, which is measured from October to October, is the third-driest year on record, according to the SFPUC.

The snowpack in the Sierras, which melts and runs into the Tuolumne River that supplies San Francisco’s water, is now about 20 percent of normal. Rainfall in the Hetch Hetchy watershed is now about 9 inches for the year, Ritchie said, which is “still well below average.”

Another two to three storm systems similar to that wet weekend’s output could bring the water stored in Hetch Hetchy Reservoir in Yosemite National Park from its current level of half-capacity of 188,000 acre-feet to 250,000 acre-feet by July 1, Ritchie said.

“That’s where I will have a complete night’s sleep,” he said.

City departments as well as residents have been asked to curtail water use by 10 percent. That number could grow depending on how much or how little rain and snow fall in the coming months.

No rain or storms are predicted for at least the next 10 days, according to the National Weather Service.

Officials are still exploring ways to cut down on water use, such as using recycled rather than potable water in The City’s street-cleaning machines.

The SFPUC delivers about 265 million gallons of water daily to 2.6 million Bay Area homes and businesses. Water agencies throughout the Bay Area purchase water from the SFPUC. San Francisco residents use about one-third of the water delivered through the Hetch Hetchy system.

Though the water outlook is improved, officials may yet declare a water emergency. That could happen in mid-April. The next water supply update is scheduled for March 1.

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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