BENICIA -- With less water flowing into Benicia this year because of the state's drought, the city has launched a campaign to encourage residents to conserve any way they can.
Specific recommendations will include not allowing water to run off unused into gutters and ditches, fixing leaks, and watering lawns and landscaping only between 6 p.m. and 9 a.m. during the week, with no watering on weekends. The city will also encourage restaurants to serve drinking water only upon request.
The aim is to reduce water usage by 20 percent citywide.
Meanwhile, city departments -- including park managers -- are already looking for ways to cut water use, officials said.
The City Council on Tuesday also asked officials to return soon with options for implementing mandatory conservation measures if needed, including how a drought surcharge might be imposed on water users.
"We're not at a point where we can say we should go (with) mandatory (measures)," City Manager Brad Kilger said. "We need to gather some more information, and things are constantly changing."
The drought is hitting Benicia hard because the city depends heavily on State Water Project water. In a normal year, the city gets 85 percent of its water supply from the state. But it's unclear how much the city will get this year because state officials halted deliveries last month because of the ongoing dry conditions.
While Benicia has about one-third of its annual water needs covered by other sources, city officials say there is considerable uncertainty about the balance. As a result, officials are calling for voluntary conservation, drawing down supplies carried over from previous years and potentially buying emergency supplies from other agencies.
"We're in a whole new territory in terms of what could happen," Benicia interim Public Works Director Steve Salomon said. "Our hope tonight is to give information to the community, emphasize how serious the situation is and get feedback from the council."
The city uses about 10,500 acre-feet of water in a normal year. An acre-foot equals about 326,000 gallons, and an average family of four uses about half that amount per year, Salomon said.
As the city tries to conserve, officials said they're keeping an eye on drought-related costs, such as reduced revenues from reduced water use, and the cost of buying short-term supplies from other Solano County cities at higher-than-normal prices. There also could be increased energy costs associated with pumping more water at the city's Cordelia pump station, Salomon said.
While the council has the authority to impose a drought surcharge on water customers if necessary, officials said they are not suggesting it at this time.