The Coastside County Water District approved its current Urban Water Management Plan, highlighting its stable position — for now — while at the same time forecasting drastic rationing in the future if certain restrictions fall into place.

In addition to updating its management plan, which must be reconsidered every five years and evaluates water supply and demand through 2045, the board of directors also approved its Water Shortage Contingency Plan. Both will be sent to the California Department of Water Resources by June 1.

The consensus was that in normal years, the district will have enough water to meet demand. The district is projecting a slight decline in water demand, from 704 million gallons in 2025 to 664 million in 2045. After two consecutive dry years, the district voted last month to ask customers to voluntarily reduce irrigation and outdoor water use by 10 percent this summer and fall.

Though previous water conservation efforts have brought a level of stability, the district identified the state’s Water Quality Control Plan for the San Francisco Bay/Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Estuary as the biggest constraint. Officials acknowledge that could severely impact the availability of water supplies during dry or drought years.

In consecutive drought years, the plan describes magnified effects of the Bay-Delta Plan. In the district’s designed five-year drought, the fifth year could result in a 53 percent shortfall by 2025. By 2045, the model shows that in the last year of a five-year drought the demand of 664 million gallons far outpaces the supply of 273 million gallons. That would result in a 59 percent shortfall.

Seventy-three percent of the district’s water is purchased from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. Denniston and Pilarcitos creeks provided 19 percent and 6 percent, respectively, and 2 percent comes from groundwater.

“Due to the district’s reliance on SFPUC during dry years, the district could experience water shortages up to 29 percent during a single dry year after 2023,” said Cathleen Brennan, CCWD’s water resource analyst.

The Bay-Delta Plan calls for more annual freshwater flow for the lower San Joaquin River from three inland tributaries, including the Tuolumne River. It places limits on how much water agencies can take from those three tributaries. Specifically, the plan sets a new minimum of 40 percent of unimpaired flow reaching the San Joaquin River annually from February through June. From 2012 to 2017, flow on the Tuolumne River averaged just 12 percent of historic levels.

Some advocates and scientists say this increase in flow will drastically improve the salmon population. An estimated 80 percent of the state’s commercial fishery species live in or migrate through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. They say the current water diversion regulations, untouched since 1995, are inadequate to protect or restore the Delta ecosystem. The small amount of water flowing into the delta results in higher water temperatures and more toxic algae blooms.

There are many unknown factors. The State Water Resources Control Board approved the Bay-Delta Plan in 2018, but because of pending lawsuits, it’s uncertain how the plan will impact the CCWD. Water agencies relying on these tributaries for agriculture and urban water use seek voluntary agreements with the state. But experts say those discussions have stalled, leaving the plan opaque.

This very plan was discussed by the San Mateo County Harbor District in March when the commission accepted a resolution to support the state water board’s desire to increase flows to 40 percent. In a presentation to commissioners, Peter Drekmeier, the policy director for the Tuolumne River Trust, said he believes the SFPUC is exaggerating designed drought models that combine the two driest years on record while inflating a projected demand increase of 25 percent. He said if the Bay-Delta Plan was in place, “we could manage it without requiring any rationing or without bringing any new water supplies like recycled water online.”

The CCWD’s Water Shortage Contingency Plan outlines residential use, commercial reduction, and fees. The new plan adds six water shortage level stages, one more than was previously required by the state. It ranges from a Water Shortage Advisory, which involves a voluntary 10 percent rationing, to a Water Shortage Catastrophic Emergency, requiring mandatory rationing of more than 50 percent.

CCWD Director Ken Coverdell urged the board to support local conservation and take serious steps to pursue alternative water sources, particularly recycled water options.

“I think we need to get a committee, we need to get a budget,” Coverdell said. “We need to get on it.”

August Howell is a staff writer for the Review covering city government and public safety. Previously, he was the Review’s community, arts and sports reporter. He studied journalism at the University of Oregon.

(1) comment

Jim Larimer

This year Portland has experienced record-breaking heatwaves exceeding all pervious records. This is a product of climate change. A future filled with droughts and water shortages is the future we should be planning for now.

Every year our community discharges of hundreds of millions of gallons of fresh water processed from wastewater into the ocean. That water could be processed to make it indistinguishable from fresh water harvested from local sources or from the Sierra.

This is a water resource available today and totally under community control. Recycling is a environmentally responsible method known to reduce our footprint on the local and the regional fresh water supply.

Recycling has been the perennial topic of the five agencies responsible for potable and wastewater for more than a decade, yet nothing beyond talk has been accomplished. This is a failure of government.

The cause of this failure is entirely local. The barrier to action is inability of 5 separate agencies to agree on action. Here is an urgent example for why Lafco has repeatedly recommended consolidating these overlapping agencies of government. The economic advantages of consolidation will pale when compared to the environmental need for it.

Thanks to the Review for bringing this topic to the community's attention.

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