California’s drought might not be officially, entirely over but water districts around the Bay Area are rescinding key provisions of their emergency drought rules.

On Tuesday, the boards that govern the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, the Santa Clara Valley Water District and the Alameda County Water District voted to end many drought-related water restrictions.

The votes follow similar actions taken by the East Bay Municipal Utility District in March and the Contra Costa Water District on April 5.

Together, the five districts provide water to nearly 7 million Bay Area residents, either directly or through wholesale water contracts.

Valley Water’s decision replaces its mandatory 15 percent water-use reduction for Santa Clara County residents with a voluntary 15 percent reduction goal and directs the agency to consider additional water conservation measures.

Valley Water’s outdoor water waste rules, including a two days per week watering limit for residential non-functional turf, remains in effect.

“Water conservation must be a way of life,” Valley Water chair John Varela said.

“California has experienced two multi-year droughts in the past decade. We can’t predict when the next drought will arrive. That’s why it’s so important that we continue our water saving ways,” Varela said.

We’ll drink to that — without the surcharge

The SFPUC, which provides water to nearly 3 million people in four counties, ended its drought emergency declaration Tuesday and lifted its drought surcharge of up to 5 percent for drinking water and wastewater customers.

The SFPUC’s 11 percent voluntary water use reduction remains in effect, as does its water waste rules, including the prohibition on hosing down sidewalks, using a hose without an automatic shutoff valve and watering within two days of a rainstorm, among other things.

“Recent storms have made this year one of the wettest on record, and snowpack has reached historic levels,” said SFPUC General Manager Dennis Herrera.

“While these storms may have ended the latest drought for much of California, climate change is resulting in weather whiplash,” Herrera said. “Rapid shifts between extreme weather mean long-term vulnerabilities for our water supply.”

“California has experienced two multi-year droughts in the past decade. We can’t predict when the next drought will arrive. That’s why it’s so important that we continue our water saving ways.”

John Varela, Santa Clara Valley Water District

The Alameda County Water District Board of Directors rescinded its drought surcharge effective April 1 and on Tuesday voted to end its water shortage emergency ordinance and drought restrictions once the State Water Resources Control Board ends its emergency regulations, which are set to expire in June, according to district officials.

“Drought challenged our state for several years, but our customers committed to conservation and in 2022, saved enough water for 13,000 households for one year. Because of conservation and improved water supplies, we can lift restrictions,” said ACWD board president Paul Sethy.

The decision ends restrictions on outdoor irrigation, using decorative fountains, draining and refilling swimming pools and other outdoor water uses.

EBMUD’s Board of Directors unanimously voted to end their 8 percent drought surcharge effective March 1, to eliminate penalties for excessive water use and move from a 10 percent mandatory conservation order to a 10 percent voluntary water use reduction goal.

EBMUD’s board could end other restrictions later this month pending a review of the district’s final water supply report for the year.

Restaurants, hotels and builders get relief

At its April 5 meeting, the Contra Costa Water District board voted to end most water use prohibitions approved in April 2022 and to drop a 15 percent surcharge that went into effect that July.

Some of the restrictions that are ending include the requirement that restaurants only serve water on request, that hotels only wash towels and linens on request, that construction sites use only non-potable water for dust control and that new irrigation had to be drip or micro-spray.

All of the water districts’ moves are in response to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s decision on March 24 to end many of the state’s drought emergency provisions that he enacted in April 2021.

While the U.S. Drought Monitor shows drought conditions no longer exist for most of California — including the entire Bay Area — Newsom stopped short of declaring the drought officially over and many statewide water conservation rules remain in effect, including a rule requiring large institutions and businesses to refrain from watering ornamental lawns, as well as a prohibition on using water to clean sidewalks and driveways.

Also, the rules allowing California water managers to more easily release water from reservoirs for the purpose of recharging the state’s severely over-pumped and depleted groundwater basins were not eliminated.

Kiley Russell, Bay City News

Kiley Russell writes primarily for Local News Matters on issues related to equity and the environment. A Bay Area native, he has lived most of his life in Oakland. He studied journalism at San Francisco State University, worked for the Associated Press and the former Contra Costa Times, among other outlets. He has covered everything from state legislatures, local governments, federal and state courts, crime, growth and development, political campaigns of various stripes, wildfires and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.