The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, which relegates most of the available water to the Coastside, declared a water shortage emergency last week and urged its 2.7 million customers to voluntarily reduce water usage by 10 percent compared to 2019-2020 levels.

The new policy is effective immediately and is meant to curtail retail customer water by 5 percent and wholesale water use by nearly 14 percent. In addition to allowing the SFPUC more water reserves and resources, the declaration also includes a temporary 5 percent drought surcharge for San Francisco users that will go into effect on April 1.

Montara Water and Sanitary District is not a Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency member and is not impacted by SFPUC’s declaration. But the CCWD and Pacifica’s North Coast County Water District

are member agencies, and now both are awaiting their allocations from San Francisco’s regional water system for the remaining fiscal year. Cathleen Brennan, CCWD’s water resource analyst, said the district is likely to get those allocations by Dec. 24.

Based on those allocations, the CCWD board at some point in January will determine how much water customers will need to save. The district is currently in the first stage of its Water Shortage Contingency Plan, which advises a 10 percent voluntary reduction. Stage 2 is a Water Shortage Emergency Warning requiring a 20 percent reduction.

Brennan said the district’s allocations are based on what the district purchased from SFPUC in 2020. Because the district didn’t purchase more than usual due to good local sources that year, the amount of conservation needed by customers hinges on the status of local sources this year.

“We could be cut back 10 percent from SFPUC, but that can translate to a 20 percent shortage for us, or even higher, depending on how our local sources are doing,” Brennan said.

If the SFPUC doesn’t see results from retail and wholesale customers, it could implement mandatory restrictions later. SFPUC Assistant General Manager Steve Ritchie said last week that nearly one-third of San Francisco’s reservoir supply, about 360,000 acre-feet, is off-limits. That’s due to the state’s curtailment orders on the Tuolumne River and other streams that flow to the Sacramento-San Joaquin River to help irrigation districts amid the drought. He said the agency’s reservoir is in decent shape at 73 percent capacity, a little under the 80 percent capacity expected for this time of year.

“Every time we add uncertainty, it means that our planning has to get more conservative,” Commission President Anson Moran said. “As we’re trying to look at a more flexible way of doing things, all the signals we’re getting from the state say that we should be more conservative, not less.”

Though the Tuolumne River curtailments that began in August have been suspended on Oct. 19 because of the storm that passed through the Bay Area, they could be reinstated at any time, possibly as early as this week, Ritchie said.

“Certainly, those recent storms have helped out, but the drought definitely still remains, necessitating action,” Ritchie said.

According to the SFPUC, San Francisco customers have reduced their average daily water use in 2019 and 2021 by 15.5 percent, and wholesome customers have saved 9 percent. The two groups have reduced average daily water use by 10.9 percent from 2019 to 2021.

BAWSCA CEO Nicole Sandkulla said she supported the proclamation, citing that Bay Area customers in 13 of the 26 agencies used less than 55 gallons of water per person per day in 2019-2020. The statewide average is closer to around 90 gallons per person per day.

“Our member agencies and their customers are currently using record-low amounts of water, but we can and will reduce our use so that we can best prepare ourselves for this continuing drought.”

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.

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