FREMONT -- Uncertain about its traditional water sources, southern Alameda County's water district has urged residents to conserve and is offering some homeowners free plumbing service to help save.
As the state's water shortage worsens, those measures might be the beginning of a long, complex effort to manage dwindling water supplies amid California's third consecutive dry year, Alameda County Water District leaders said.
Even with some rain over the weekend, this is California's driest year since rainfall record-keeping began in the 1840s, district leaders said.
"It's uncomfortable to be an urban water agency and not be able to make better predictions about our future water supply, but that is where we are," said Walt Wadlow, the Fremont-based district's general manager.
Some 40 percent of the district's supply comes from Alameda Creek watershed, and it buys 20 percent from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission's Hetch Hetchy water system.
The district's remaining 40 percent of water usually comes from the State Water Project, but that agency last week cut off the supply for cities and farms statewide for the first time in its nearly 54-year history. That announcement put already challenged local water suppliers on the hunt for alternative sources.
The drought has put nearly 20 rural communities, including some in Sonoma and Santa Cruz counties, at risk of going dry soon -- an alarming prospect that Alameda County Water District leaders say they are in "absolutely no" danger of facing.
"Our ratepayers have supported a diverse portfolio of water supply, so even in a really dry time like this, we have other places to turn to for water," Wadlow said.
Those sources include pumping more of the utility's groundwater, tapping reserves and swapping supplies with other water utilities, said Eric Cartwright, an aide to Wadlow.
Formed in 1914, the Alameda County Water District supplies water to 336,000 people in Fremont, Newark and Union City.
The utility has asked its customers to reduce water usage by 20 percent, encouraging them to take shorter showers, run dishwashers less often and cut back on outdoor irrigation, Cartwright said.
"The single most important thing people can do is (shut) off their sprinkler system," he said. "That is water that, if not used now, can be saved for the summer, when it'll really be needed."
The average Tri-City-area home uses 280 gallons of water per day, with about 40 percent -- 112 gallons -- used on lawns or other landscape irrigation, Cartwright said. The district also now offers homeowners who meet income requirements free repair of plumbing leaks and installation of water-efficient fixtures, such as low-flow toilets, to reduce water usage. Customers can apply by calling 510-668-4207 or going online at www.acwd.org, said Stephanie Nevins, the district's water conservation supervisor.
"The main goal is to help low-income homeowners save water," Nevins said. "We'll monitor water use before and after, so we'll know what the (program's) results are in about a year."
Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/cdebenedetti.