With California’s water supply shrinking and the drought dragging on, Bay Area water agencies are getting serious about persuading their customers to use water responsibly.
Amid a third painfully dry year, the Bay Area’s biggest water retailer began releasing the names of customers using “excessive” amounts of water this week, a practice that may soon tee up hundreds of households for humiliation and shame.
When Contra Costa County supervisors last summer signed off on 125 new homes slated for 30 acres of grazing land in the oak-dotted Tassajara Valley, they were warned water was going to be an issue.
Californians began paying more attention to their water use as summer arrived, but statewide conservation remains well short of what the governor has requested during the drought.
In June, municipal water consumption dropped 7.6% compared to the same month in 2020, marking a second straight month of savings, according to state data released Tuesday, and parts of the Bay Area did considerably better. The four prior months, however, saw increases in water use, sometimes by double digits.
The Sacramento is California’s largest river. It arises near the lower slopes of Mt. Shasta, in the northernmost part of the state, and runs some four hundred miles south, draining the upper corridor of the Central Valley, bending through downtown Sacramento, and, eventually, reaching the Pacific Ocean, by way of the San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. Erik Vink, the executive director of the Delta Protection Commission, a state conservation agency, described the Sacramento to me as “California’s first superhighway.” By the eighteen-fifties, daily steamboats ferried passengers between San Francisco and Sacramento in as little as six hours.
The recent storm that brought wet weather to the Bay Area last week dumped an “impressive” amount of snow on the Sierra Nevada for the month of April, said the National Weather Service.
The storm dumped 31.1 inches of snow, increasing April’s snowfall total to 76 inches — “almost double what we received January through March,” the UC Berkeley Central Sierra Snow Lab tweeted Friday.
The agency, like most water suppliers in the region, has been relying only on modest outdoor watering restrictions, and voluntary conservation, to reduce consumption. But with lackluster savings and a continuing water shortage, the district’s governing board is scheduled to decide next week whether more aggressive rules are necessary.
Each morning for months, Amelia Morán Ceja has peered out her window, searching Sonoma’s wine country for dark clouds or the residue of rain on the leaves of her grapevines.
Her searching has proved futile, and now she’s worried as California faces its third consecutive summer with drought.
The dry conditions threaten her thirsty vines at Ceja Vineyards and elevate the risk from fire and heat waves. The triple threat is a “perfect storm during harvest,” she said.
The storms that rolled across the Bay Area and much of California on Sunday and Monday delivered some of the highest rainfall totals of the calendar year so far, as meteorologists predicted — but that still isn’t much, they said Tuesday.
“On a bigger picture, this is one of the biggest storms we’ve had of 2022,” said Matt Mehle, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. “But we’ve only had a handful of systems actually bring any precipitation to the Bay Area in January and February.”
The storms that frosted the Sierra Nevada with a healthy layer of snow in December soon gave way to dry weather, and the snowpack is showing it.
Satellite images from NASA show a big difference even between January and February. Images from Jan. 9 showed a blanket of snow over the Sierra Nevada and their foothills, with clouds overshadowing parts of the Bay Area and Central Valley.