EBMUD Declares Water Shortage

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday May 15, 2008 - 09:36:00 AM

The East Bay Municipal Utility District’s (EBMUD) Board of Directors declared a water shortage emergency on Tuesday and adopted a drought management plan to reduce water use by 15 percent. 

EBMUD’s 1.3 million customers are facing a severe water shortage for the first time in nearly two decades, agency spokesperson Brian McCrea told the Planet. 

The plan aims to save 32,000 acre feet of water, about a two-month supply of water in the Bay Area. The last two years has been among the driest in the district’s history and March and April together have been the driest on record, McCrea said. 

The Sierra snowpack that makes up the majority of the District’s water supply is only yielding about half of what is normally expected in runoff. 

“This is the time of the year snow in the Sierra Mountains melts and meanders down into the District’s Pardee Reservoir, where 90 percent of EBMUD’s drinking water comes from, 90 miles away,” McCrea said. “But instead of the water supply in Pardee—and Camanche, the flood control reservoir below it—increasing, they are actually both decreasing with the small amount of runoff. This year, some of the storms just slid off to the north instead of coming to the Mokelumne watershed.” 

A group of people, including homeowners and landscape architects, turned up at EBMUD’s headquarters at 375 11th St. around 1:15 p.m. today to voice their concerns about the water shortage. 

“Our drought management plan proposal ensures adequate storage for future years,” EBMUD Director Andy Katz told the Planet. “We have allocated a budget of $5 million to increase water conservation outreach.” 

The plan includes implementing restrictions on decorative ponds that don’t recycle water, washing vehicles without an automatic shutoff valve, washing sidewalks and patios with water, watering the lawn on consecutive days or more than three times a week, and excessive outdoor watering. 

“We will also be doing media outreach, and increasing our customer service,” Katz said. “We encourage people to use water wisely and to repair leaks promptly. We also discourage refilling pools or spas and encourage restaurants to serve water to customers only when they request it.” 

EMBUD will ask customers to cut overall outdoor water use by 30 percent.  

Under EBMUD’s water shortage response plan, when the agency’s storage goes below 500,000 acre feet of water, the Board of Directors could move to mandatory rationing and drought restrictions to prevent the supply from shrinking. 

An acre-foot of water covers one acre of land with water to a one foot deep. 

“We estimate 415,000 acre feet by the end of the year,” Katz said. “That’s a severe shortage and requires 15 percent water conservation. At this point in the year, we can only be secure if we have 500,000 acre feet of water.” 

EBMUD serves customers from Berkeley to Danville and from Crockett to Castro Valley. 

The board also adopted temporary drought rates which increase water charges by 10 percent, except for customers who use less than 100 gallons a day. 

“I received a lot of e-mails from residents who are doing the most they can,” Katz said. “Some families use only 60 gallons a day. We felt it was important to reward customers as much as possible.” 

To help these families, the board increased the Drought Surcharge from $1 to $2 per 748 gallons if customers do not conserve half the needed reduction. 

The drought surcharge applied for single family homes will be 90 percent of past consumption, and that for multi-family and commercial customers will be 94 percent of past consumption. 

Exceptions will be made for medical requirements, changes in occupancy and health and safety emergencies. 

The agency’s rationing plan mandates all single-family homes and renters to cut outdoor water use by 19 percent and 11 percent respectively. 

“People should take shorter showers,” Katz said. “Berkeley has a lot of older toilets. Now is the time to replace them with ultra low-flow toilets.” 

EBMUD’s website (www.ebmud.org) also provides many tips on water conservation and offers rebates. 

Large irrigators like cemeteries and golf courses will be asked to cut back water use by 30 percent and schools and hospitals will be asked to reduce water consumption by 9 percent. 

EBMUD last declared a water shortage emergency in 1991, when the district’s water storage went down to 410,000 acre feet. 

“I really trust our customers,” McCrea said. “They came through for us in 1977 and again in 1991. I am confident they can do it again. I would urge gardeners to use the grand secret weapon—mulch—which keeps the soil wet. We are hoping to get some people in district vehicles to go around the neighborhood and advise people to keep water off the gutter, in other words not be a gutter flooder.” 

For more info, see www.ebmud.com/conserving_&_recycling/residential