Liquid Assets: While California Dries Up, San Francisco Stays Wet

The year 2014 is shaping up to be one of California's driest since humans saw fit to commence measuring such things. San Francisco, however, is a town that's loath to dry out. We continue to power-wash filth off our streets and flush our toilets with pre-drought abandon.

What's more, we do so with pristine snowmelt from Yosemite.

City workers and residents have been asked, politely, to voluntarily cut water consumption by 10 percent — the equivalent of a cop saying "Stop ... or I'll say 'Stop' again."

Turn on the faucet and water comes out; that's yet another reason why it's nice to live here. Not everyone is so fortunate: The California Department of Public Health recently highlighted 17 water districts at risk of running dry come spring. Jeff Mount, a senior fellow at San Francisco's Public Policy Institute of California, found three common features uniting the imperiled water districts:

• All serve exceedingly small populations, meaning the user base isn't there to fund system upgrades;

• All have just one, and possibly two, water sources;

• All are unconnected to other water systems.

So, San Francisco isn't just luckier than its parched counterparts — it's antithetical to them in every way. Our water system serves 2.6 million homes and businesses; in addition to Hetch Hetchy water, we boast five local reservoirs, groundwater sources, and, soon, groundwater wells in Golden Gate Park. Our vast user base, meanwhile, helped fund the ongoing $4.6 billion Water Safety Improvement Project. That infrastructure upgrade better connected San Francisco's system not only to its diversified sources, but to other systems statewide.

California may be in the third year of a record-setting drought, but San Francisco's liquid coffers are just a shade below 70 percent capacity.

As a result, inasmuch as San Francisco "experiences" this drought, it will be in a second- or even third-hand fashion. Local shoppers may gripe about spiraling produce, dairy, and meat prices at Whole Foods. But, a few counties down, it's unemployment that's spiraling. Agricultural workers aren't needed to till fields left fallow or milk cows being sold off, en masse, to out-of-state slaughterhouses.

They're not drilling groundwater wells in San Joaquin Valley, notes Mount, because it'd be the equivalent of drinking fertilizer juice. Billions of dollars in business and countless livelihoods are, literally, drying up.

Ominously, we haven't even reached the time of year when vast quantities of irrigated water are required; fields haven't yet been planted and perennials haven't yet budded. "And, the question nobody is talking about: What about next year?" asks Mount. "Do you let more water out of your reservoirs? Or do you husband your resources in case it's dry next year, too?

"Nobody has an answer for that."

 
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10 comments
Christian Castro
Christian Castro

The production company should be called liquid assets Foley

Kevin Foley
Kevin Foley

This image looks like our pop up event, Castro

Josiah Skallerup
Josiah Skallerup

Power washing streets and flushing toilets accounts for a very, very small percentage of water usage. The real culprit is agriculture. If you really care about the drought, stop complaining about watering lawns and start moving toward a vegetarian or vegan diet.

OsoOrganic
OsoOrganic

David Nierengarten, unfortunately, climate change and drought are affecting brewers too, including Lagunitas Brewing Co. http://bit.ly/1bYw6W0.

Scott Danforth
Scott Danforth

Heres a idea close down all the starbucks making all those dumb foo foo drinks that require tons of water to make

Leslie West
Leslie West

^ you obviously don't or haven't lived in the Central Valley, where there are meters for $400 dollar water bills fot a standard family home where water flows through the Central Valley but is being piped to SF and LA, farms and lakes drying up. There are more people in the Bay Area than the Central Valley, so pay attention to your usage before your convenient tap runs dry.

Steven Stello
Steven Stello

Oh, its all San Francisco's fault? What about Central Valley cities that have sprawling lawns for each house and lush gardens? What about all that water wasting, 19th century style flood watering agriculture they use out there?

huntercutting
huntercutting

Actually, we already have an answer for that.


Last summer, in the midst of the driest calendar year on record, the State of California (i.e. the Governor) took a big gamble and "over pumped" 800,000 acre feet of water above the "final allocation" set earlier in the year, to San Joaquin Valley billionaire farmers and southern California water districts.  

http://www.eastbayexpress.com/oakland/california-water-officials-made-the-drought-worse/Content?oid=3830041


One legacy of this is that Southern California reservoirs are near or at 100% of average while nothern California reservoirs are near half empty - at 70% San Francisco is better than most.



 
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