Power Shutdown Part Two: EBMUD Water Service

Power Shutdown Part Two: EBMUD Water Service

In the course of investigating impacts to the Island City in the event Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (PG&E) orders a public safety power shutdown, (“Some Insights on Island’s Hometown Power Supply,” Nov. 7) an Alameda resident expressed concern over the city’s water supply during a power shutdown off Island. 

Alameda receives its water supply from East Bay Municipal Utilities District (EBMUD). Alameda has a unique situation where Alameda Point’s water infrastructure is operated in a partnership between EBMUD and the City of Alameda.

Alameda’s great advantage is that it’s less than 10 feet above sea level when it comes to the water supply located about 90 miles away in the Sierra Foothills. “A lot of our system functions through gravity flow,” said Andrea Pook, a spokesperson for EBMUD. “It’s actually very efficient. They really thought it through when they set it up.” 

In other words, since most of the route from water supply to end user is downhill, no pumps are required to move the water, hence no electricity is required. The main problem with losing power for EBMUD, according to Pook, is pumping water from sources to storage locations. 

“The issue isn’t getting water to our service area, or having a lack of supply right now,” said Pook. “The real issue is running the pumps to the storage tanks.” Pook explained that during power shutdowns, EBMUD requested customers conserve water so as not to deplete the stored supply too quickly.

“I love that our customers are so responsive,” said Pook. “When we asked them to conserve the first time, they reduced their use by 29 percent. The second time, it jumped to 40 percent.” 

EBMUD customers experienced no interruption of service at all during the recent shutdowns, mostly because the utility planned ahead, renting 29 portable backup generators and pumps stationed when needed at its various facilities. EBMUD has gotten advance notice from PG&E of any planned shutdowns as the power company has identified EBMUD as a “public safety partner.” As such the water company has had plenty of time to respond with the portable generators, which, Pook said, can completely replace PG&E’s service when needed. 

“We’re a PG&E customer like any other,” said Pook. “It’s just we have like a zillion facilities that use power. So we got a zillion text messages and emails from PG&E letting us know 48 hours in advance.” Pook said so far the shutdowns cost EBMUD up to $750,000 in additional expenses.  

Pook said that EBMUD is reworking its incident page online. The water company said it will post an interactive map providing information on any interruption to water service in an emergency, but, “We’re hoping to not have to post it again this season,” said Pook.

The negativity surrounding PG&E has begun to spill over onto EBMUD’s crews when they are misidentified as power company staff, said Pook. 

“Someone said to me just the other day, ‘You’re just as bad as PG&E,” she said. “And we’re not.”