The Bay Area's largest water provider announced Monday that because residents have been doing a better job of conserving water, it has decided not to impose mandatory rationing this summer. But a closer look shows that the agency's customers have saved almost no water compared to last year.

"There's no doubt that we had a slow start, but I'm happy to report water use in the past several weeks has declined, and we are making up for lost time," said Harlan Kelly, general manager of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, which provides water to 2.6 million people from San Francisco to Fremont through its Hetch Hetchy system.

The agency says it has met its goal of 10 percent voluntary conservation, but when total water use from January through May is compared with the same period last year, Hetch Hetchy customers are saving less than 1 percent. The agency's larger number is based on a 10 percent savings from the increased amount of water it initially projected customers would use this year.

Around the Bay Area, other water districts are also showing underwhelming results.

Despite the third year of serious drought, almost no communities have imposed mandatory rationing -- meaning water budgets, fines for overuse and water cops writing tickets for people overwatering lawns or hosing down driveways.


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"Most of them have fairly ample water supplies; it's not dire for them yet," said Jay Lund, director of the Center for Watershed Sciences at UC Davis. "They also make money by selling water."

The results in the South Bay are only slightly better than on the Peninsula and in San Francisco.

"People need to redouble their efforts," said Marty Grimes, a spokesman for the Santa Clara Valley Water District in San Jose, which provides water to 1.8 million people in Silicon Valley. They need to look at their landscaping and everything else to reduce use."

From Jan. 1 to May 31, the Santa Clara Valley Water District's customers have shown a 4.3 percent reduction in water use, compared to the same period last year. The agency's board asked for 20 percent in February. If January is taken out of the data, before the conservation request, the savings is 13 percent, Grimes said.

At the Contra Costa Water District, the agency asked for a 15 percent reduction, and from January to May, customers have cut back use by 8.6 percent, compared with the same period last year.

Contra Costa put in place such measures as a ban on watering lawns from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and a ban on hosing off driveways and sidewalks. But like most other agencies in the Bay Area, it is not issuing fines for violators and is only telephoning or putting out door-hangers asking for compliance if somebody complains about a water waster.

"We are getting into the hotter months, so we want people to continue their efforts," said district spokeswoman Jennifer Allen.

The agency doesn't have stiffer rules, Allen said, because several years ago, it increased the height of Los Vaqueros Reservoir, boosting supplies. If the drought drags on, it may adopt tougher rules, she said.

Most large Bay Area agencies generally are in better shape than other parts of the state because they have built more storage, all homes have water meters, they've put in wastewater recycling programs and they've spent years offering rebates for people to replace lawns and put in low-flush toilets.

The 26 cities and private companies that buy Hetch Hetchy water have decreased water use 17 percent over the past 10 years, even though population in the area has gone up 4 percent.

"We see that as a model for other water districts to emulate," said Nicole Sandkulla, CEO of the Bay Area Water Supply & Conservation Agency, which represents the purchasers of Hetch Hetchy water.

SFPUC officials noted Monday that even though Gov. Jerry Brown requested a 20 percent cutback in January statewide, people in San Francisco already use among the least water per capita of any place in California because they don't have large yards. The Hetch Hetchy system also carried over water in its reservoirs from last year and has at least a two-year supply.

"I think we're concerned but we are in a better position than the state," said Kelly of the SFPUC.

Such talk frustrates some people.

"Voluntary measures appear to not be working," said Kathryn Phillips, director of the Sierra Club California. "There needs to be some enforcement. Common sense suggests that we need to impose measures that will ensure we get the wisest use of water."

If Santa Clara Valley Water District meets its 20 percent goal, it will lose $30 million to $40 million in water sales. And Santa Clara, a wholesaler, can't even force the cities that buy its water to ration. It's up to each city council. Meanwhile, the East Bay Municipal Utility District will lose $8 million if it meets its 10 percent conservation goal -- a target it has been on pace to hit since February.

Lund, of UC Davis, noted that imposing strict water cutbacks can be a logistical nightmare. Some people claim they need more because of larger families. Others say they already have been conserving, which is a common refrain in Pleasanton, a rare city that imposed 25 percent mandatory cutbacks.

"For these particular districts, the severity isn't that great this year," he said. "They are behaving the way you would expect. If next year is dry, I suspect they will have wished they had done more."