Officials with the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission say conservation and rationing is still important even though there has been more rain this past year. (Jessica Christian/2014 S.F. Examiner file photo)

Drought is less bleak so restrictions ease up

The weather is wetter than last year amid California’s ongoing drought, but the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission’s request to conserve water citywide hasn’t dried up yet.

The SFPUC voted unanimously June 28 to maintain water conservation while easing up on last year’s mandatory water usage restrictions, which required local commercial water customers to reduce their outdoor potable-water irrigation by up to 25 or 30 percent. Nonresidential customers faced excess-usage fees that will now be lowered, and are required to reduce usage by only 10 percent.

Residential users faced no mandatory restrictions but lowered usage by 15 percent, exceeding the agency’s request for 10 percent.

City residents are asked to continue reducing water usage by 10 percent.

“I think as the situation eases up a little bit, it makes sense to ease up on some of the most severe parts of that plan,” Commission Vice President Anson Moran said at the meeting.

“Eased up but not eliminated. That’s the important key,” SFPUC spokesperson Charles Sheehan said. “Customers can ease up a little bit but it’s not time to break out the Slip’N Slide just yet.”

San Francisco’s has enough water in storage for the next few years, and this fall the SFPUC plans to diversify the local water system by combining groundwater with the water from Hetch Hetchy, San Francisco’s historic reservoir near Yosemite that fills with snowmelt each year. The reservoir was full at the end of June after a wetter season, the SFPUC reported.

In recent years the reservoir hasn’t filled. The water-use reductions of 10 percent intend to help the whole system recover from the severe five-year drought, which reached emergency conditions statewide.

“It seems like we’re entering a 50-year drought so I think we proceed cautiously here,” Commission President Francesca Vietor said.

The restrictions caused retail water usage to drop by more than 20 percent last year, SFPUC manager of water resources Paula Kehoe reported in last week’s meeting.

The state required San Francisco to reduce only 8 percent because usage was already below average — met with 15 percent reduction. Voluntary systemwide reductions in 2014 reached 13 percent, which includes other cities and counties the SFPUC sells Hetch Hetchy water to.

“The good news is we passed the stress test but a stress test isn’t a plan. And the plan is, we will continue with rationing,” Kehoe said.

This May, in response to the state’s fifth year of drought, Gov. Jerry Brown ordered the State Water Board to make conservation a way of life and linked severe drought to statewide threats of water shortages in communities, hardship on farmers, increased wildfires, degraded habitat for wildlife and threat of saltwater contaminating the groundwater.

Brown declared a state of emergency in 2014 and issued an executive order asking all water users to cut back by 10 percent, furthered last year to a 25 percent reduction of potable urban water usage. This May, he called for region-specific adjustments and for a permanent ban on potable water-wasting practices.

Reduction requirements will be eased up until the next drought emergency. Changes went into effect Friday.

“We are sticking with conservation. That’s got to be the way of life going forward,” Sheehan said.

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