SFPUC water users exceed savings goal in 2014 

click to enlarge While city sidewalks still needed to be sprayed off, SFPUC customers surpassed the 10 percent waster-use reduction mandate in 2014. - MARCIO JOSE SANCHEZ/2014 AP FILE PHOTO
  • Marcio Jose Sanchez/2014 AP file photo
  • While city sidewalks still needed to be sprayed off, SFPUC customers surpassed the 10 percent waster-use reduction mandate in 2014.

The Bay Area did as it was told and saved water last year.

Good thing, as the California drought is far from over and more savings are needed to weather the dry spell.

Heeding calls to conserve water from Gov. Jerry Brown and Mayor Ed Lee, water customers in the Bay Area served by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission cut use by 14 percent in 2014, according to data released this week.

With the drought in its third year, Brown a year ago told Californians to cut water use by 20 percent. Lee asked San Francisco users -- which comprise some of the 2.6 million homes and businesses served by the SFPUC, which pipes in fresh drinking water from the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir in Yosemite National Park -- for a 10 percent reduction.

San Francisco did not quite achieve that level, but other SFPUC customers made up the difference.

Yet at first, that 10 percent savings goal was hard to achieve.

By May, residents and businesses had used more water than normal, according to SFPUC data.

But as the year went on -- perhaps thanks in part to threats of penalties for water wasters -- SFPUC customers saved enough water for the agency to meet and beat its savings goals for the year by more than 1 billion gallons.

Historically, water use by all SFPUC customers ranges from as low as 170 million gallons a day in the winter to 270 million gallons a day in the summer. A 10 percent cut would have been an average use of 209 million gallons a day throughout the year. What it received was even better.

Water customers used an average of 203 million gallons a day, according to SFPUC data. That amounted to a total savings of 9.897 billion gallons, agency spokesman Tyrone Jue said.

City departments also heeded Lee's request and cut water use by 14 percent, Jue said. Total water use in The City alone went down by 8 percent, but savings elsewhere was enough for the 10 percent savings goal to be exceeded.

And SFPUC customers continue to be some of the stingiest water users in the state. Average per capita use for residential customers dropped to 44.76 gallons per day, said Steven Ritchie, the SFPUC's assistant general manager for water.

"It was a little bit funky at first, but [water users] hit their stride," Ritchie said Tuesday.

And they will need to stay in stride. Water users in The City and beyond will start 2015 under voluntary 10 percent conservation, as a wet start to the water year (which begins Oct. 1) -- rainfall in December was 12.24 inches, nearly three times the historic average -- did not end the drought.

The Hetch Hetchy Reservoir is currently at 64.5 percent of capacity. At this time last year, the reservoir was at 54.3 percent, Ritchie said.

An abnormal wall of high pressure in the atmosphere, dubbed the "ridiculously resilient ridge," is still steering winter storms away from California.

And as a result, snowpack in the Sierra -- which melts in the spring and fills reservoirs throughout the state -- is still very low at about 15 percent of average, Ritchie said.

"This is still a dry year so far," Ritchie said.

Most of California remains in a state of exceptional drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, with January shaping up to be mostly dry with only light rain likely, meteorologists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Thursday.

In a statement, Mayor Ed Lee praised water users for meeting the savings goal "two months ahead of schedule," but noted that reduced consumption is the new norm.

"Water conservation just has to be looked at as a way of life from here on out," Lee said.

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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