EBMUD Declares Stage 4 Drought

Courtesy EBMUD East Bay Municipal Utilities District (EBMUD) Ranger Supervisor Mark Bolton examines Camanche Reservoir’s dry lakebed. Camanche is EBMUD’s largest Sierra reservoir and is currently at 27 percent of capacity

Dismal precipitation this past winter and a melted snowpack has pushed the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) board of directors to implement a series of actions to protect and stretch the East Bay’s water supply.

The district’s annual water supply and deficiency report confirms that projected water storage will be at near-record lows without additional actions. Storage in all reservoirs combined is expected to stand at one-third of capacity by Oct. 1, the start of the water year.

The last time EBMUD saw lower storage numbers was in 1977. Reservoirs are currently about half full. Peak water use will occur in July, August and September, when many residential and irrigation customers double or triple their use.

"EBMUD staff for decades has planned for a worst-case scenario of a three-year severe drought. So far, our plans have worked," said EBMUD General Manager Alexander R. Coate. "We’ve managed through this drought with minimal impact to customers or the local economy. We can’t know how dry next winter

will be so we must save as much as we can starting today."

Measures the board discussed include increasing district-wide customer cutbacks from 15 percent to 20 percent, which aligns with Gov. Jerry Brown’s most recent Executive Order and the State Water Resources Control Board regulatory framework proposal. New outdoor water-use restrictions were also put in place to align with mandates from the State Water Resources Control Board.

EBMUD will hold public hearings on a new excessive-use penalty aimed at households that use 4.5 times the amount of water used by a typical residential customer. Customers subject to the penalty would be charged $2 per every 748 gallons over the limit.

A new water theft penalty aimed at persons who steal water or misuse water from a public fire hydrant will be instated. Instances of water theft would be fined $500 for the first violation, $1,000 for the second violation within a 12-month period and $3,000 for every violation thereafter within a 12-month period.

The board also looked to authorize purchase and immediate delivery of 33,250 acre feet of water (about 11 billion gallons) from the Freeport facility on the Sacramento River and discussed other water transfers for later this year.

The cost to deliver these additional supplies through June 30 will be absorbed through district reserves, as will all drought-related costs for the current fiscal year estimated at about $33 million. Last year, drought costs were $8 million and were paid out of reserves and through a surplus land sale.

In 2014, customers conserved 12 percent compared to their 2013 use. So far, 2015 conservation efforts are only at six percent since the start of the year.

"The 20 percent cutback goal district-wide is achievable if all customers, especially single family residential and irrigation customers, abide by the existing and new outdoor restrictions," said Manager of Water Conservation Richard Harris. "We are proposing that customers water landscapes no more than two non-consecutive days per week before 9 a.m. or after 6 p.m., and to eliminate all runoff."

If the 20 percent goal in 2015, EBMUD estimates it will have about 14 billion gallons stored in reservoirs by the end of the year. That’s enough water for around 156,000 average homes for a year.

The average household uses about 246 gallons per day. EBMUD serves water to about 326,000 single-family residential households.

Pending ratepayer notification and board approval at the Tuesday, June 9, meeting, a temporary drought surcharge of up to 25 percent could apply to customers’ bills and be used to cover purchase and delivery of additional water supplies, additional conservation outreach and enforcement of restrictions. If approved, the drought surcharge would take effect July 1.

The average household using 246 gallons per day would see their bill go up by $11.65 starting July 1 if temporary drought surcharges and the proposed regular rate increase are approved.

"What’s in our reservoirs is only part of the picture," said Coate. "The snowpack is gone. Normally, snow melts in spring and early summer, boosting stored water supplies. But this is not a normal year. We expect little runoff during this critically dry year. We must take necessary actions to ensure we can provide water through next year."

Contact Sun Staff at editor@alamedasun.com.

Courtesy EBMUD The Comanche reservoir outside of Sacramento is only about half full.