The Tuolumne Utilities District Board of Directors was able to relax some of TUD's Phase III water restrictions Tuesday, following recent support from the state and months of diligent conservation by customers.

The board voted 5-0 to lower the district's water-use reduction goal from 50 to 25 percent. However, customers still face a $500 fine and potential service restrictions if they don't reduce their usage by at least 25 percent.

"We still need to conserve," said TUD General Manager Tom Scesa.

Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in January because the state's snowpack gauges at the time were at historic lows. The TUD board adopted mandatory restrictions shortly after on Jan. 28 and set the district's water-use reduction goal at 50 percent, with a mandatory minimum of 25 percent.

The district serves about 44,000 county residents almost entirely with water from the South Fork of the Stanislaus River stored in Pinecrest and Lyons reservoirs. Pacific Gas and Electric Co. owns both reservoirs and the rights to the water in them, providing a free supply to TUD each year under the terms of a 1983 contract.

The reservoirs can hold a combined 23,500 acre-feet of water. Districtwide demand is about 17,000 acre-feet per year, under normal conditions.

TUD typically relies on storage in Lyons Reservoir, which holds about 5,500 acre-feet, from the time snowmelt stops flowing into the reservoirs - known as the "end of spill" - until Labor Day each year.

Federal regulations require PG&E to preserve Pinecrest's water level at 5,608 feet in elevation through Labor Day for recreational activities, such as swimming, fishing and boating.

However, the district estimates that Lyons Reservoir can only supply customers for about two months at the normal rate of usage during the summer.

For the complete story, see the July 23, 2014, edition of The Union Democrat.