Seattle gets its drinking water from the Cedar River Watershed. Heres a photo from a Cedar River Watershed tour Seattle City Council member Sally Bagshaw took earlier this year.
This past spring, Seattle Public Utilities prepared for summer by topping up its reservoirs in the Cedar River Watershed a little higher than usual, but the utility is still issuing a water shortage advisory this summer. Seattle City Council/Flickr

So much for William Shatner's plan to send water from Puget Sound to thirsty Californians! In the face of record-breaking heat and a snowpack drought across the state, Seattle, Tacoma, and Everett are activating the first stages of their water shortage response plans.

The last time Seattle triggered its citywide water shortage plan was back in 2005. In March of that year, then-governor Christine Gregoire also announced a statewide drought emergency.

A decade later, Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) is now asking Seattleites to manage their water usage carefully. That request doesn't demand "sacrifice" from its customers quite yet, according to Kelly O'Rourke, SPU conservation planner.

"This is not an emergency situation at all," O'Rourke said. Right now, the advisory stage—the first of four water shortage steps—recommends that customers check out water-saving tips on SPU's website. Most of these tips are common sense, like doing big loads of laundry instead of small ones, using a broom to clean sidewalks rather than a hose, fixing leaks, and watering lawns "deeply, but infrequently."

The city recently downgraded its water supply outlook from "good" to "fair." If the city has to ramp up its water shortage plan to the "voluntary" stage, SPU will set a goal for reducing demand and ask customers to cut back on outdoor watering.

But the likelihood of escalating to the second stage of the shortage plan is hard to predict. "It may be that we come back to customers with stage two; it may also be that in the same time frame we deactivate the plan," Alex Chen, water planning director for SPU, said. "If we were to continue to have unusually hot or dry conditions, that would be a big factor in advancing to the next stage of our plan," he added.

In the spring, SPU filled up its reservoirs in the Cedar River Watershed higher than the utility normally would in advance of a particularly hot and dry summer. More water is coming out of the reservoirs than coming in, Chen explained.

That said, overall water use has actually decreased over the last 10 to 20 years, Chen noted. Thanks to a strengthened conservation ethic, people are using less water per person even as more customers come online, and SPU predicts the city will continue to have a healthy water supply for several decades.

SPU's water shortage plan dictates that if the water supply deteriorates past the voluntary stage, "mandatory" or "emergency" water shortage planning could kick in. To date, Seattle has never activated the emergency stage.

Check out more of SPU's water-saving tips.