San Francisco Mayor London Breed, along with the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) announced on Tuesday that there is now a water shortage emergency in effect, calling for large reductions across the Bay-spanning system.
According to the new emergency measure, a 10% voluntary reduction in water usage compared to water use from July 2019 to June 2020 will be applied. All of SFPUC’s 2.7 million customers, which includes the counties of Alameda, San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara, will be affected. Broken down by county, San Francisco is going to be asked for a 5% drop due to having already reduced water usage this year, with the other three counties looking at a 14% drop.
To help ensure that businesses and residents comply, a 5% drought surcharge will be added to water bills, mirroring the 5% drop asked of San Francisco. In total, people’s bills are estimated to go up by only about $6 per month.
“With California still experiencing devastating drought and the uncertainty around this rainy season, we need to make tough decisions that will ensure that our water source continues to be reliable and dependable for the future,” Mayor Breed said in a statement. “Year after year, San Franciscans step up to conserve our most precious resource, resulting in one of the lowest water usage rates in California, and during this critical time, I know that our City will once again meet the call to reduce water use.”
SFPUC officials also commented on Tuesday and Wednesday about the new measures being taken.
“We are in a drought with far-reaching consequences, and it has become clear we all need to do even more to address it,” noted SFPUC General Manager Dennis Herrera “San Franciscans have been doing their part and have some of the lowest water usage in the state. This emergency water shortage declaration will help all of our customers pull together and move in the same direction. We know we can rely on each other. I’m confident that everyone will do their part so we can all get through this.”
SFPUC Commission President Anson Moran added, “We need everyone to take action to preserve and stretch our limited water supplies. San Franciscans and our wholesale customers have been doing a good job when it comes to being efficient with their water use. We can all do better. We look forward to working with all of our customers to further reduce water use.”
Many San Franciscans do a great job in reducing their water use, but we're asking all our customers to do a little more to help us through this drought. The Emergency Water Shortage Declaration is a necessary step towards a more reliable water supply. https://t.co/8Fp4GSuufv pic.twitter.com/O8tFrPl5LY
— SF Water Power Sewer (@MySFPUC) November 24, 2021
A voluntary 10% drop in water usage across 4 counties
SFPUC will also be launching an awareness campaign on water usage. The utility commission will include ways for people to reduce water to help achieve the 10% targeted system-wide reduction, including fixing leaky toilets, installing low-flow fixtures, reducing outdoor irrigation, and receiving water usage audits from SFPUC professionals.
The San Francisco/SFPUC measure comes a month after Governor Gavin Newsom added San Francisco County and multiple Southern California counties to the California-wide drought state of emergency. While the state had attempted a 15% across the board reduction in water usage in July, the voluntary nature of Governor Gavin Newsom’s reduction target only caused rates to go down by 1.8%.
According to the California Department of Water Resources, the 2021 water year was the second driest in California’s recorded history, barely coming above 1924. In San Francisco, that dryness caused the city’s reservoir supply to go down to 73% from 80% a year ago, with state of emergency policies not allowing about one-third of that supply to be used. Higher temperatures along with lower precipitation levels, less snowpack mass in recent years in the mountains and state actions such as releasing about half of all stored water in reservoirs to the ocean for environmental purposes have caused the dire situation in the state, particularly in the North and Central regions.
“They’re trying to think of everything they can before putting in mandatory programs to reduce water usage,” explained water engineer Shane Alexander, who has worked on numerous water projects in California and with other states affected by droughts, to the Globe on Wednesday. “This is what poor water planning does. People think they’re fine during wetter periods, so they stop conserving and start using all that extra water for environmental or other programs to look good, but then when it comes time to really need that water you suddenly can’t cancel all of these high-water using programs because they’re tied in with laws, so you need to make the cuts at the agricultural and residential levels. So we’ve seen farms cut off from water and we’re seeing more and more restrictions and calls for lower usage like we have from San Francisco.”
More new water reduction policies are expected in the coming months as reservoir levels in Northern California continue to go down.
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