SAN FRANCISCO—On November 23, the Mayor of San Francisco and the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) declared a water shortage emergency and approved measures aimed at further conserving and reducing water usage across the SFPUC’s service territory in response to dry weather conditions that have impacted the entire state over the past two years.
A press release from the Mayor’s Office, noted as a result of the emergency measure, the SFPUC unanimously approved, San Francisco declared a 10 percent reduction in water usage across its regional system. The 10 percent reduction will be compared to water use from July 2019 to June 2020 and will be applied to all of the SFPUC’s 2.7 million customers, which include customers in San Francisco, Alameda, Santa Clara, and San Mateo counties. The call for voluntary water reduction will go into effect immediately.
“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,” said Mayor London N. Breed. “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. I applaud the SFPUC Commission for declaring a water shortage emergency and urging our customers to be mindful of their water usage.”
“We are in a drought with far-reaching consequences, and it has become clear we all need to do even more to address it,” SFPUC General Manager Dennis Herrera said. “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.”
The city is expected to launch a water conservation public awareness campaign that will include the SFPUC’s outreach channels and strategically targeted paid media advertising. The messages will be conveyed in various languages and will include tips and resources on actions that customers can take to decrease their usage to help achieve the 10 percent reduction system-wide, such as fixing leaky toilets, installing low-flow fixtures, reducing outdoor irrigation, and receiving water usage audits from SFPUC professionals.
The average San Franciscan uses 42 gallons of water per day at home—one of the lowest rates in California and less than half of the statewide average of about 90 gallons per person per day. In April 2021, the SFPUC called upon its 1,600 irrigation customers and city departments to limit water use and asked all customers to reduce water waste, which helped lead to an overall reduction of water use in San Francisco through November 2021.
The state of California continues to experience extremely dry weather, the SFPUC is expanding on those efforts by declaring a water shortage emergency, which will help the agency access water reserves and resources available only during emergencies.
The SFPUC has about 360,000 acre-feet of reserve water in its water bank. An acre-foot is potent water for about two California households annually on average. The State Water Board’s curtailment orders, emergency regulations issued in August 2021 that restrict diversions from the Tuolumne River watershed, effectively prevent the SFPUC from accessing that water bank. Due to the Water Board’s curtailment orders, the SFPUC and its retail and wholesale customers are less prepared to address drought conditions moving forward.
“We need everyone to take action to preserve and stretch our limited water supplies,” SFPUC Commission President Anson Moran said. “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.”
The SFPUC must institute a temporary drought surcharge for retail water and wastewater customers of up to 5 percent on part of their bill, as a result of declaring a water shortage emergency. The SFPUC Commission voted to introduce the surcharge on April 1, 2022. The effect on the average customer’s bill is estimated to be a little over $6 per month if they made no reductions to their water use. The temporary drought surcharge will automatically end when the SFPUC Commission rescinds the water shortage emergency declaration.
Governor Gavin Newsom declared a Drought Emergency for 50 of the 58 counties in California in early 2021 and called on all Californians to voluntarily reduce water use by 15 percent. The state’s ongoing drought has increased the significance of water reuse, recycling, and conservation programs, measures SFPUC has long championed.
The agency recently expanded its automated Leak Alert program and imposed permanent water waste restrictions in San Francisco. Restrictions include avoiding runoff from irrigation and outdoor cleaning and limiting the hosing of sidewalks and hardscapes to only address health and safety needs. The agency offers many resources to encourage efficient water use for customers. These include free onsite irrigation checkups and landscape evaluations and extensive indoor water-saving assistance, including a free replacement of old residential toilets, rebates for efficient clothes washers and other equipment, and home and business conservation consultations. More information is available at www.sfpuc.org/savewater.