Water Agencies May Impose Summer Cutbacks
Chronicle Staff Writers
April 12, 2007
More than 2 million Bay Area water users could face mandatory water restrictions this summer if they do not cut back on consumption now, the head of the San Francisco Public Utility Commission said Wednesday.
The Sierra snowpack — the major water source for people in San Francisco, parts of the Peninsula, the South Bay and southern Alameda County — is less than half of what it should be for this time of year. As of the beginning of the month, the snow pack was at 46 percent of normal.
Additionally, precipitation at Hetch Hetchy Reservoir is at the lowest level since 1987 and at the fourth-lowest level since record-keeping started in 1919. The reservoir is the source San Francisco’s water.
The water and snow levels are being measured every two weeks. Officials will look at the measurements at the end of May and make a recommendation on mandatory restrictions for San Francisco’s 2.4 million users, said Susan Leal, general manager of the city’s Public Utilities Commission.
Mandatory restrictions could mean reducing consumption up to 20 percent. Customers who do not comply could face fines or have their water turned off.
Calls for conservation have also been sounded in the North Bay. The Sonoma County Water Agency is asking its 750,000 users in Sonoma, Marin and Mendocino counties to cut back voluntarily.
Lake Mendocino, which supplies those users, is predicted to be at its lowest level since the 1970s by September, said Brad Sherwood, spokesman for the water agency.
“It’s basically going to be a puddle in the lake,” Sherwood said.
The agency is not looking at mandatory restrictions, but “if conditions maintain and we don’t get any major rains the rest of the spring, then anything is a possibility,” he said.
The East Bay Municipal Water District, which serves 1.3 million customers, hasn’t decided whether to call for voluntary conservation. District staff members plan to announce any such measures at a meeting on April 24, said Charles Hardy, spokesman for the district.
“Until then, we’ll just watch and wait,” Hardy said, adding that the last time the district had mandatory rationing was 1989-91 and before that the mid- to late 1970s. “We know it’s dry and could lead to voluntary conservation. We just don’t know yet.”
In the Contra Costa Water District, officials are encouraging people to conserve but not making a formal request that they do so.
“We’ll be rolling out a higher level of awareness for people to be careful, because while the situation is tenable this year, if next year is dry, it could be much more serious,” said Patty Friesen, spokeswoman for the district, which provides water to 550,000 customers in fast-growing eastern and central Contra Costa County.
Other water agencies in Marin and Santa Clara counties do not anticipate any need for voluntary restrictions, representatives said.
Rainfall has been below average statewide, and Southern California is especially dry, said Maury Roos, chief hydrologist with the California Department of Water Resources.
Previous years have seen above-average rainfalls, however, which can help mitigate that for agencies with large groundwater storage capacity, he said.
The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission recommends a number of water-conservation steps, including: turning off the faucet when brushing teeth or washing dishes; taking shorter showers; cleaning sidewalks with a broom and not water; running washing machines only with full loads; planting drought-tolerant plants; and replacing old toilets.
The last time Bay Area residents experienced mandatory water-use restrictions was during the six-year drought that ended in 1993.