Even as the biggest storm of the year rolled in, the Placer County Water Agency on Thursday declared a drought emergency to deal with the potential that water shortages will continue.
Einar Maisch, director of strategic affairs at the agency, said weather experts have advised that this weekend’s wet storm will produce about 3 feet of snow in the agency’s watershed, which includes part of the American River. That will push the snowpack up only to the level of the 1976-1977 drought, one of the worst on record in California.
“What it will mean is that, hopefully, 2014 will not be the new lowest record level of precipitation,” said Maisch. “We’ll take it.”
So at its meeting Thursday, the agency’s board of directors declared a drought emergency and urged all customers to reduce their outdoor water use by 50 percent. This was not a formal request, but merely a recommendation, Maisch said, because the board did not want to go that far in the absence of one director who represents a large share of the customer base.
Even so, the request applies to customers who receive both treated water and canal water for irrigation purposes. However, it does not apply to commercial agriculture businesses served by the agency, which are being asked instead to reduce their water use by 25 percent.
In addition, treated water customers, which includes homeowners and retail businesses, are being asked to reduce their indoor water use by 25 percent.
Maisch said the board will be asked to formalize these conservation targets at its next meeting, on Feb. 20, if drought conditions persist.
The agency has about 39,000 customers throughout Placer County. It also sells water on a wholesale basis to the city of Lincoln, which is expected to respond with similar conservation measures soon.
The board also directed that new connections to the water system not be allowed to install new landscaping, swimming pools or ponds, and new irrigation water service using canals will be postponed.
Board members also approved the emergency installation of pumps and piping at two existing wells in the Rocklin area. Officials said the $244,000 project would allow use of groundwater during the drought, allowing more water to be saved in upper elevation reservoirs.
The drought is expected to bring fiscal pain. The agency estimates expenses will increase $1.5 million to $4 million, while revenue may decline $1.5 million to $4.2 million due to the drought.