Area residents are being asked to curtail water usage under mandatory conservation measures implemented by the Tuolumne Utilities District in July.
The TUD Board of Directors voted last week to push for water conservation measures after receiving a mandate from the State Water Resources Control Board, which administers Pinecrest Lake.
TUD and PG&E requested permission from the state board in June to draw an additional two feet of water from Pinecrest Lake before Labor Day, deviating from a new recreation rule that requires the minimum water elevation to remain at 5,608 feet.
The state responded with a letter earlier this month granting the organizations permission under the condition that they enact district-wide water conservation.
The measures prohibit excessive water usage, landscape watering between noon and 7 p.m., and the washing of sidewalks, walkways and driveways with a garden hose except in special cases, said district spokeswoman Lisa Westbrook.
TUD posted the information on its website Tuesday and will continue to spread the word this week through advertisements and email newsletters. The limits are already in place and will continue through Labor Day.
The district will notify customers by phone or letters if they are using excessive amounts of water, which Westbrook estimates as double the average household water use — roughly 900 cubic feet per month.
TUD has provided a form on its website for residents to submit anonymous reports if they observe anyone who is violating the measures.
While the mandatory conservation phase allows the district to fine violators, Westbrook said TUD hopes to avoid it. It will issue fines on a case-by-case basis and has not determined how much they will be.
“What we’re trying to avoid is being the water police,” Westbrook said. “We don’t really want be instituting fines.”
This is the first time the district has set mandatory limits, which is the third phase of conservation. Since March, the district has been operating under voluntary conservation, or “phase two.”
TUD officials have been monitoring the below-average precipitation as well as customer demands, and they began preparing for low water supply going into December, Westbrook said.
Water stopped spilling over the Pinecrest Dam on June 4, which was the earliest end-of-spill on record. This prompted the district and PG&E to contact the state board about a one-season exemption from the 5,608-foot water level requirement.
The state set the limit two years ago for recreational purposes as part of PG&E’s federal relicensing.
TUD is drawing water from Lyons Reservoir, which does not have a restricted water level because it is not used for recreation. However, the more water TUD draws from the reservoir, the lower the quality of the water will be, district engineer Tom Scesa said.
TUD associate engineer Glen Nunnelley said Lyons will supply water for about 65 days, which is not long enough to make up for Pinecrest’s early end-of-spill.
By receiving the state board’s approval to draw the extra two feet of water, TUD will be able to supply its customers with water through Labor Day when the Pinecrest restriction is lifted.
TUD has not yet drawn the water from Pinecrest and Scesa said it will depend on several factors such as weather, water conservation and whether or not there are any changes in the distribution system.
The district has seen about a 16 percent reduction in the water withdrawn from Lyons and Pinecrest relative to the last 10 years, and the engineers contribute much of it to more efficient ditch system operations.
While this is the first time the water level will be drawn below the 5,608-foot limit since it was implemented, Scesa said it is historically quite normal for the lake to be below that.
With the district’s help, PG&E recently conducted a study to determine how lower water levels affect recreation at Pinecrest. The study showed that at 5,600 feet, boat docks and gas docks would function without problems and that the only noticeable difference would be a reduced swimming area and muddier beach, Scesa said.
TUD sent a request to the state board to change the water level restriction according to water year type. The change would allow the district to draw the lake down to 5,606 feet during wet years, 5,604 feet during normal-to-wet years and 5,600 feet during normal-to-dry years.
The state board said it plans to discuss the proposal with TUD in August or September.