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."