BENICIA -- More so than any other Solano County city, Benicia remains afflicted by the state's ongoing severe drought, with fewer than enough guaranteed water sources to meet an average year's need, a report finds.
As a result, city officials are working on contingency plans to buy more water from Solano agencies while urging residents, businesses and industries to conserve, according to a city staff report.
The City Council is set to hear a report on the city's dicey water supply Tuesday.
The council may direct officials to initiate an aggressive public outreach campaign urging residents to reduce water consumption. Measures may include asking residents to decrease outdoor watering, take shorter showers and, if possible, install high-efficiency toilets and washing machines.
Also, officials plan to hold discussions with representatives of the Valero Benicia Refinery -- the city's biggest water user -- on what conservation measures they may be able to use.
Though necessary, reduced water use could result in reduced water revenues to the city, officials said. The city may also experience increased costs such as the expense of buying emergency short-term water supplies -- up to 1,000 acre-feet, officials say -- that may be at a higher cost than the city's normal supplies.
One acre-foot is equivalent to 326,000 gallons.
The issue is related to the State Department of Water Resources' announcement last month that there will be no deliveries of State Water Project water for the foreseeable future. Because this is Benicia's main supply, the city must look at alternatives to meet current water demands.
In a normal year, Benicia gets 85 percent of its water from the state system. The balance comes from Lake Berryessa in Napa County through contracts with Vallejo and the Solano Irrigation District.
Other Solano County cities -- including Vallejo -- have developed the rights to more reliable water supplies.
Benicia uses an average of 10,586 acre-feet of water each year.
If Benicia were to receive no State Water Project water for the entire year, officials estimate the city would receive only about one-third of its committed ongoing supply. This supply would include unused water from previous years stored in Lake Herman in Benicia.
The city also may receive between 1,000 and 5,100 acre-feet of unused State Water Project water from previous years. However, this supply is not guaranteed as it is only available as long as there is sufficient storage in state reservoirs, officials say.
Also, the city has banked 2,000 acre-feet of State Water Project water in the Mojave Desert. However, because of the decision to suspend all deliveries, this allocation is currently unavailable.
The city's only guaranteed backup supply is its 4,900 acre-feet of carry-over water from previous years stored in Lake Berryessa. City officials are recommending using only half of this supply this year, in case the drought continues into next year.
In the face of reduced supplies, city officials are recommending that the city launch a communitywide voluntary water-conservation program with the goal of cutting usage by 20 percent. This reduction would be consistent with Gov. Jerry Brown's request on Jan. 17, when he issued a drought emergency after 2013 became the driest year on record in California.
While the council has the authority to impose a drought surcharge if necessary, officials said that is not being suggested at this time. Instead, officials are proposing to closely watch water usage and revenues and keep the council updated on a monthly basis as long as water supplies remain restricted.