Bay Area water officials: No need for restrictions seen during drought


Bay Area water districts say their water supplies are looking normal or above average for this time of year, with this week's rainfall adding to the reserves from last year's wet winter and continuing conservation by customers who have cut back since the previous drought in 2013. 


"This is nice. It feels great for me, I love this weather, I love the rain," said Patty Shaw of Pleasant Hill.


In downtown Orinda, the rain brightened some people's spirits.


Customers ducked into the Europa Hofbrau restaurant, a boon for the owner George Boukis's business after struggling during the drought years with water restrictions.


"I was very concerned this last December because we didn't see a drop and I said uh-oh, maybe the drought is making another comeback. but it's been a little reassuring lately, seeing a few sprinkles," Boukis said.


He remembers the pain of trying to keep the business going during the drought years.


"Particularly in the restaurant industry we had plenty of notices from East Bay MUD telling us to conserve as much as we can and regards to surcharges and overusage," said Boukis.


Nearby, at East Bay MUD's San Pablo reservoir, the water levels reached well up the bank. Every drop added to the precious reserves.


"We have a really good supply right now," said East Bay MUD spokewoman Jenesse Miller.


Miller said Wednesday the total for all their reservoirs was 81% of capacity, well above average.


"East Bay MUD's water supply is in good shape right now and that's for two reasons. We did have an amazing water year last year which we continue to hold in our reservoirs as well as amazing customer conservation," Miller said.


In fact, she added, customers are still conserving about 20% compared to their 2013 usage, when many people had to adjust to less water during the drought.


"We didn't water the yard every night, we would probably skip one every three nights or something like that," said Eric Lai of Oakland.


"Those customer conservation habits are sticking with people. They're not stopping because we're having rain, so that's allowing us to keep more of our water and have a really healthy supply of water," Miller said.


San Francisco PUC spokesman Tyler Gamble says the rain also is helping their reservoir levels which are at 72 percent of capacity. He says while water use crept up slightly in 2017 compared to last year, customers are still using less than they were in 2013.


In the south bay, the Santa Clara Valley Water District's spokeswoman Colleen Valles says their ten reservoirs are at 26 percent. Valles says they aren't worried about supplies because their groundwater levels comprise a much larger portion of the total storage and those levels have come back to normal.


For East Bay MUD customers wet weather now is a good sign for later in the year.


"It's very unlikely we're going to have to trigger drought mechanisms or fees because we have a really healthy supply," said Miller.


That healthy supply, however, will not offset the need to continue with the scheduled water rate hike for East Bay MUD customers in July. Miller says that's because the funds still are needed to replace the aging infrastructure that delivers the water to customers. Miller says some of the water pipes are 80 to 100 years old and the system's dams and water treatment plants have continuing maintenance costs.


All districts say they will be keeping an eye on the Sierra snow pack as well, which was low during the first snow survey at the beginning of the year.

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