{Association of Bay Area Governments} {trends and challenges}

{Water Supply}


California’s growing population will intensify the demand for water. According to the California Water Plan, by 2020 the state will face a water shortfall of 2.9 million acre-feet in average years. An acre-foot is approximately 326,000 gallons, enough to cover an acre of land one foot deep and supply a family of five for a year. In drought years, the shortfall will swell to 7 million acre-feet.

The forecast for the San Francisco Bay Area is far less dire. However, the projections assume a substantial increase in conservation efforts. The greatest water savings are anticipated through landscaping and irrigation in new and existing developments and aggressive conservation efforts by commerical and institutional establishments.

Conservation Measures Needed to Avert Future Water Shortages in Normal Rain Years in the San Francisco Bay Area

{Conservation Measures}
If the Bay Area is able to achieve these conservation goals, there will be enough water in average years to serve urban, agricultural and environmental customers. The problem occurs in drought years, when the region’s water supply would be cut an estimated 24 percent. This would leave the region approximately 376,000 acre-feet short of its minimum requirements.

To close, or at least shrink, its water gap in a drought, the region would need to step up its water conservation and recycling efforts. For example, water agencies would need to implement ambitious water-recycling plans and add storage capacity to existing dams. The region could also increase its water supplies through water transfer agreements with agencies outside the region and a state drought water bank. However, given that the rest of the state will be facing deeper water deficits, it is unlikely that the Bay Area, which already imports two-thirds of its urban water supply, will be able to import its way out of the problem. But, the way we manage growth can exacerbate or minimize our water problems.


Local policies regarding water management vary widely between jurisdictions. This lack of coordination often works against the best interests of the region. For example, many local governments have extended water and sewer services in response to development pressures. In some cases those additions have stretched local water supplies dangerously thin. At least one Bay Area district failed to add storage capacity as it added customers, ultimately putting current users at risk. Some water suppliers have imposed a tier pricing system to encourage conservation. Under this system, rates increase in relation to the volume of water consumed. Other districts charge one rate per unit of water, no matter how much water is consumed. A handful of districts that don’t use meters charge a fixed, monthly rate regardless of how much water is used.

Districts also impose widely varying fees to hook up to their distribution system. In many cases, new developments are charged no fee, or simply the marginal cost to extend service—to install lines and meters—rather than the full cost to replace or expand the system. The same is frequently true of industrial users. Residents in developed portions of the district share these costs, even though it would be unnecessary to replace or increase their water supply were it not for the new development. Plus, the more money spent on extensions, the less money districts have to maintain or upgrade, older neighborhoods.

Water Connection Fees Charged by San Francisco Bay Area Water Districts
for New Residential Units

{Water Condition Fees}


As development spreads across the natural landscape, the region’s waterways and water quality are threatened. Roofs, roads, parking lots, and other impenatrable surfaces prevent rainwater from percolating down through the soil to recharge groundwater supplies. Rainwater runs off these surfaces quickly, increasing the odds of flooding and erosion in heavy storms. Plus, as the rainwater flows across parking lots and roads, it collects pollutants, such as heavy metals and pesticides, and washes them into streams and ultimately the Bay.

Not only is an adequate supply of water essential to the Bay Area’s inhabitants, it also undergirds the region’s economy. If businesses perceive the region’s water supplies are unstable, they may consider relocating.

{Transportation} {table of contents} {Air Quality}