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Politics & Policy

City declares drought emergency, asks residents to cut water use or pay surcharge

Declaring a water shortage emergency, Mayor London Breed and the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission asked San Francisco residents to voluntarily cut their water usage by 10% and announced a surcharge for water customers that will go into effect next year.

The average residential customer will see their bill increase by $6 per month if they don’t change their water usage at all, according to the SFPUC. The surcharge is set to take effect in April 2022 and will last the duration of the water emergency. 

“We are in a drought with far-reaching consequences, and it has become clear we all need to do even more to address it,” said Dennis Herrera, general manager of the SFPUC, in a statement. 

The voluntary reduction and surcharge applies to all of SFPUC’s 2.7 million customers in and around San Francisco. The 10% reduction is relative to usage rates between July 2019 and July 2020, and the surcharge will apply to residential and wholesale water customers who fail to adjust their water usage. 

Members of the SFPUC, a five-person body that oversees water policy and operations, said earlier this month that they were weighing a voluntary cutback equivalent to 5% for San Francisco customers and 13.5% for wholesale customers located outside of the city. The commission didn’t immediately respond to a request for further comment on the reductions. 

SFPUC leaders plan to advertise the reductions to San Francisco residents, encouraging them to fix leaking toilets, reduce outdoor irrigation and make other changes that could reduce water usage. According to the commission, the average San Francisco resident uses 42 gallons per day at home—one of the lowest rates in the state, equivalent to less than half the statewide average of roughly 90 gallons per day.  

Steve Ritchie, assistant general manager of SFPUC’s water enterprise, told the SF Standard earlier this month that San Franciscans were “definitely getting the message that it’s a drought” this year, reducing their water use by as much as 9% over the summer.