San Mateo, South San Francisco and San Carlos residents could soon be allowed to water landscaping only two days per week, the California Water Service announced Wednesday.
The water provider said customers in its Bayshore District, which serves roughly 200,000 people in San Mateo County, will enter “stage 2” of the agency’s tiered water conservation plan in light of worsening drought conditions.
Ken Jenkins, chief water resource sustainability officer, said the decision was made based on growing water use and dwindling snowpacks and reservoir levels as the region’s experienced consecutive dry months amid its rainy season. He said in January the district saw an 8.4% increase in water use over the same month in 2020, and February’s numbers are expected to yield similar results.
The district entered stage 1 of the six stage Water Shortage Contingency Plan in August last year. Stage 1 bans runoff from irrigation, requires shut-off nozzles on hoses when washing vehicles and bans hosing down driveways or sidewalks except for “health and safety purposes.” Stage 2 builds on that, introducing lawn watering schedules. It also requires restaurants to serve water only by request.
Lawn or other landscaping watering will be allowed on staggered days of the week depending on street addresses. Those with odd numbers may water on Tuesday and Saturday, even numbers on Wednesday and Sunday.
Stage 3 would implement water budgets, setting limits for monthly use. Jenkins said there are currently no plans for such measures but that “conditions can change quickly.”
“Based on our ongoing assessment of supply and demand we would make that decision if the situation warranted it,” he said. “As we have from the beginning of the drought we will continue to monitor … and make any decisions in the future based on those local conditions.”
Stage 2 aims for a maximum of 20% reductions in total water use — in line with the Gov. Gavin Newsom’s call last year for the state to reduce consumption by 15%. Stage 3 would aim for a 20% to 30% reduction.
Roughly 87% of the state, including San Mateo County, is within a “severe drought” classification, according to the National Integrated Drought Information System. That’s better than October of last year when a similar portion of the state was in an “extreme drought.” Now less than 13% of the state falls within the category.
Severe drought classification entails a longer fire season, stress on trees and plants and inadequate grazing land. Two months ago, 67% of the state was within the category.
Hetch Hetchy, the reservoir that supplies much of the Bay Area with water, is also above normal capacity for this time of year, at 81% compared with a 71% average, according to the California Department of Water Resources. But despite a strong start to the rainy season, limited precipitation in recent months has caused snowpacks, relied on to feed the reservoir, to dwindle, down to 59% of average for this time of year. For the northern part of the state in particular the outlook is worse, with snowpacks at just 52% of average.
Additionally, experts have warned soils could still be parched from prior consecutive dry years, causing runoff from melting snow to be absorbed prematurely. Higher-than-normal temperatures could also cause increased evaporation.
The district was last in stage 2 in 2015 and 2016, though Jenkins said the tiers have since been adjusted and stage 2 at the time more closely resemble current stage 3 restrictions.
The California Public Utilities Commission will need to approve the California Water Service’s request to move to stage 2 before the additional restrictions can be enacted. If approved, the restrictions would go into place April 15.
Enforcement includes the possibility of fines up to $100, or flow-restrictors to limit water use in the case of repeated fines or “egregious” violations, Jenkins said. He said enforcement measures would rely largely on reports but that “proactive” enforcement could be carried out if reduction targets were not met.
“Our preference is to work with our customers versus penalizing them,” he said. “In most cases, customers are very receptive to making the changes that are needed once they understand why they’re needed.”
The utility will hold a public meeting April 6 to provide information on the new measures, including on conservation programs and tools available. Go to www.calwater.com/stage2 to attend the meeting or for more information.
(650) 344-5200, ext. 105