As water supplies dwindled statewide during the recent drought, Bay Area cities struggled with the consequences—including dying trees and landscaping and reduced revenues to run water systems. But overall, Bay Area water districts weathered the drought remarkably well, according to local water experts—in part, thanks to planning, cooperative efforts among neighboring water suppliers, and enthusiastic conservation on the part of their customers.
These were some of the observations from experts gathered at a recent event at PPIC’s San Francisco headquarters. Speakers included John Marchand, the mayor of Livermore, in conversation with Ellen Hanak, director of the PPIC Water Policy Center. A panel discussion moderated by KQED public radio’s Lauren Sommer followed. Panelists were Alexander Coate of the East Bay Municipal Utility District, Peter Drekmeier of the Tuolumne River Trust, Ken Jenkins of California Water Service, and Steven Ritchie of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.
“There are two components to drought resilience,” said Hanak in her introductory presentation. “One is having supply investments that reduce the risk of extreme shortages, and the other is the ability to manage demand in the short term.”
Speakers discussed a range of supply and demand tactics they used to build resilience in their cities and additional ways to prepare for droughts. Topics ranged from the use of treated wastewater for recharging groundwater basins and potable uses; the use of different financial mechanisms to maintain revenue as water sales dipped; and unintended consequences that arose, such as the potentially permanent loss of street trees and other landscaping as water conservation took hold.
Some essential takeaways included:
- Regional diversification of water supply is key to getting through dry times.
- Mandated conservation from the state was a blunt instrument; targets based on utilities’ local water conservation plans are more appropriate for such decisions.
- Planning for “conservation rates” is essential for water districts’ fiscal resilience and maintenance of reserves to pay for fixed costs.
- Aquatic ecosystems took a hit during the drought. Even though Bay Area cities embraced water conservation throughout the drought, flows to the Tuolumne River and Delta were inadequate. Addressing this before the next drought hits is key to maintain ecosystem health and at-risk species.
Read the report Building Drought Resilience in California’s Cities and Suburbs (June 2017)
Read California’s Water: Water for Cities (from the California’s Water briefing kit, October 2016)
Visit the PPIC Water Policy Center’s drought resource page