Region must conserve water, local leaders say

Leaders from several Bay Area water agencies and San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom joined together Friday to ask customers to continue to voluntarily cut back on water consumption. The effort comes after Northern California experienced one of the driest winters on record and as some water districts in the state have initiated mandatory water rationing.

Susan Leal, head of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, said most customers don't realize that 65 percent of the agency's water storage comes from mountain snow, which was “pretty much nonexistent” this winter.

The SFPUC and the Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency — which together serve San Mateo, San Francisco, Alameda and Santa Clara, counties — first asked customers to reduce water use by at least 10 percent in April. Data from April to July of this year shows that customers systemwide cut consumption by nearly 14 percent compared to the same time frame in 2004, the last appropriate dry-year comparison.

However, as temperatures have climbed in recent weeks, the gap between 2007 and 2004 is narrowing. Water officials on Friday unveiled a new $1 million ad campaign and Web site, www.watersavinghero.com, promoting ways to save water.

“Right now we're at just about 10 percent overall, so we cannot pat ourselves on the back,” Leal said. “That's why we're having this campaign.”

The new “Water Saving Hero” campaign will blanket billboards, transit stations, buses, trains, newspapers and radio throughout the region. It features everyday people adopting simple water conservation practices, such as turning off the water while brushing teeth, washing full loads of laundry, sweeping sidewalks instead of using the hose and watering yards in the morning instead of mid-day.

“Some of us that want to keep the water warm, we'll turn on the shower and then we'll undress and come back five minutes later just so it's perfect when we open that shower door,” Newsom said, admitting that he was trying to break that bad habit himself. “That's one way I'm personally trying to contribute to this effort.”

This year was the fourth driest year for the region in nearly 100 years, according to data tracking local water supply, Leal said.

“Even more important, or more upsetting or startling — what we see in the last 20 years is a very significant reduction in that snow pack,” Leal added. “So the conservation message is not only important for these next few months, it’s also for the upcoming years.”

beslinger@examiner.com

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