On June 22, Santa Clara County’s Board of Supervisors declared a local emergency due to this year’s extreme drought conditions. To date, 2021 ranks as the second driest year for California, with 1977 being the driest year on record. Yet San Mateo County hasn’t asked residents to cut back water use. Why?

At our June Happy Hour, Tom Francis explained that San Mateo County’s water reserves are in much better shape than many jurisdictions in the state. As Water Resources Manager at the Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency (BAWSCA), Tom tracks water levels closely. He said 85 percent of San Mateo County’s water comes from the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, which is at 93 percent of its usual capacity.

At the Happy Hour, Tom unpacked the challenge of water shortage invoked by the drought, delineating how water is currently sourced, what our current water conditions are and what programs address these challenges.

BAWSCA oversees 26 water suppliers in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Alameda Counties. Collectively, these suppliers serve 1.8 million residents and more than 40,000 businesses. The majority of them rely upon water sourced from the Hetch Hetchy.

Tom noted that with conservation efforts, water usage in BAWSCA’s service area is set to hit 57.1 gallons per person per day by 2040. In comparison, in 1986, water usage averaged 104.3 gallons per person per day, evidence that local residents are learning to use less water.

Currently, shortage conditions are evident in the majority of California’s main water reservoirs. Both federal water sources, such as Lake Shasta, which is 40 percent full, and state water sources such as the San Luis Reservoir, which is at 37 percent capacity, have been impacted and continue to be impacted by drought conditions.

Although they don’t directly serve San Mateo County, , these major reservoirs provide for many water agencies across the state, making their water conditions significantly more strained. For example, Santa Clara County’s Anderson Dam has been drained due to safety concerns. It is set to stay drained for 10 years and, as a result of the loss of this major water supply, the county has massively increased water conservation efforts.

In spite of the rather bleak ongoing drought conditions, the Bay Area responded rather successfully during the region’s conservation campaigns from June 2015 to February 2016. The 26 suppliers noted a 28.5 percent cumulative savings since 2013, a sizable drop in water usage.

Rebate programs, one driver of water savings, can be found on BAWSCA’s website. Popular programs include a rain barrel rebate to purchase rain barrels, the “Lawn Be Gone!” rebate to replace lawns with more water-efficient landscaping and even a rebate on a smart controller to automate irrigation. BAWSCA’s newest rebate supports homeowners in purchasing more efficient irrigation hardware, such as sprinkler nozzles, spray bodies and rotors.

During our breakout group discussion, Tom and other audience members discussed other programs and solutions. Automated metering infrastructure, for example, is now being used in selected regions to detect toilet leaks, which otherwise could yield large amounts of water waste.

The talk further clarified the value of water as a precious resource. Although we are facing severe drought conditions, our collective conservation efforts help us navigate the state’s water shortage challenges.

Author: Nikita Salunke