Baykeeper Update

Low Water Use in the Bay Area But Region Still Failing to Meet Reduction Targets

Residential water use in the Bay Area averaged 58 gallons per person per day this February, making it the most water efficient urban region in the state. Compared with February 2013, however, consumption was reduced by only 8% - a far cry from Governor Brown's recent 25% mandatory target. To help visualize urban water use since emergency water conservation regulations were imposed, Baykeeper developed an interactive tool available here, which compared residential water consumption and reductions achieved, compared to a 2013 baseline.

Bay Area Urban Water Conservation

Starting in January 2014, Governor Brown declared a state of emergency, due to persistent drought conditions. Under the emergency declaration, all urban water suppliers must report monthly water usage and were encouraged to conserve water by 20%, compared to a 2013 baseline. On April 1, 2015, the state of emergency was formally continued and a mandatory 25% reduction was imposed.

Bay Area water suppliers with the highest residential consumption include Hillsborough and the Bear Gulch Water District, which includes the Peninsula cities of Atherton, Portola Valley, and Woodside, along with part of south San Mateo County. These communities averaged about 95 gallons per person per day in February, well above the regional average, as well as the statewide average of 77 gallons. This is likely due to excessive irrigation associated with larger lots and ornamental water features.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is Daly City, where residents used only 39 gallons per day, and San Francisco, at 43 gallons. Communities known for dense lots and small lawns generally used less than 55 gallons per person per day, equivalent to the Governor's goal for indoor water use.

To meet the 25% mandatory reductions, many communities in the Bay Area must clamp down on irrigation as soon as possible. To date, Bay Area water agencies and water suppliers throughout the state have done little to enforce emergency water conservation regulations, leading to marginal reductions in water use while California is locked in a four-year drought, with no end in sight. 

In the short term, Baykeeper hopes cities and water districts enact stringent landscape watering restrictions, impose drought-based water pricing, and approve turf-buyback systems and other means to hasten the conversion to native, drought-tolerant landscaping. In the longer-term, the region must strive for greater water independence through enhanced water recycling, potable reuse, and policies that ban or strongly discourage irrigation-intensive landscaping.

Under proposed regulations released today, the State Water Board will be scrutinizing agencies to ensure implementation of such conservation measures, in order to achieve the governor's goal of cutting residential water use across California by 25%.

Agencies with residential water use rates of less than 55 gallons per day in September 2014 will be required to achieve only 10% in additional savings. There are only 18 such agencies throughout the state, including San Francisco, California Water Service Company South San Francisco, Coastside County Water District, East Palo Alto, Hayward, Daly City, and Westborough Water District. For the 135 agencies whose residents use more than 165 gallons per day, consumption must be reduced by 35%. The majority of these suppliers are located in parched areas of Southern California and the Central Valley. Bay Area agencies subject to the 35% restriction include Vacaville, Hillsborough, Morgan Hill, and the California Water Service Company Bear Gulch. 

Failure to implement appropriate conservation measures could result in informal and formal enforcement by the State Water Board, such as cease and desist orders, accompanied with timelines for enacting specific actions by non-compliant water suppliers. The State Water Board and governor's office feel such actions are warranted after dismal conservation outcomes over the last year.

Have questions? Please contact Ian Wren (ian@baykeeper.org)