Home Contra Costa County Tuesday: EBMUD Board Asked to Declare Stage 4 Drought

Tuesday: EBMUD Board Asked to Declare Stage 4 Drought

by ECT

Near record-low supply projections put increased conservation, outdoor restrictions, penalties and water purchases on the table

OAKLAND, April 13, 2015 — Dismal precipitation this past winter and a melted snowpack today has pushed the East Bay Municipal Utility District staff to recommend to the Board of Directors a series of actions tomorrow to protect and stretch the East Bay’s water supplies.

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 be at one-third of capacity by October 1, the start of the water year. Only in 1977 did EBMUD see lower storage numbers. Sierra and local reservoirs combined are currently about half full. Peak water use will occur in July, August and September when many residential and irrigation customers typically 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. 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,” said General Manager Alexander R. Coate.

Suite of actions on Tuesday’s agenda

Tomorrow at its regularly scheduled public meeting at 1:15 pm, the EBMUD Board of Directors will consider the following actions:

  • Declare a Stage 4 critical drought.
  • Increase district-wide customer cutbacks from 15 percent to 20 percent, which will align with Governor Jerry Brown’s most recent Executive Order and the State Water Resources Control Board regulatory framework proposal.
  • Adopt outdoor water use prohibitions and restrictions to remain in effect until the drought emergency is over or the regulations change. The new prohibitions and restrictions align with mandates by the State Water Resources Control Board.
  • Hold the first of two public hearings on a new excessive use penalty ordinance aimed at households who continue to use 4.5 times the amount of water used by the average residential customer.
  • Hold the first of two hearings on a new water theft penalty ordinance aimed at persons who steal water or misuse water from a public fire hydrant.
  • Authorize purchase and immediate delivery of 33,250 acre feet of water (about 11 billion gallons) through EBMUD’s federal contract via the Freeport facility on the Sacramento River and continue discussion regarding water transfers for later this year.

In 2014, customers conserved 12 percent compared to their 2013 use. So far, 2015 conservation efforts are only at 6 percent since the start of the year. It concerns district officials that supplies will decline more than projected by the end of summer if customers do not immediately cut back.

“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. We are proposing that customers water landscapes no more than two non-consecutive days per week before 9 am or after 6 pm, and to eliminate all runoff. If approved, this will be mandatory,” said Manager of Water Conservation Richard Harris.

If East Bay residents and businesses can meet the 20 percent goal in 2015, EBMUD will have about 14 billion gallons stored in reservoirs by the end of the year. That’s enough water for nearly 156,000 average homes for a year. The average household uses about 246 gallons per day during normal years. EBMUD serves water to about 326,000 single family residential households.

Conservation is not enough

EBMUD staff will ask the Board of Directors tomorrow for authorization to immediately begin delivering nearly 11 billion gallons – about a two-month supply – from its Freeport facility on the Sacramento River, as it did last year, to fill local reservoirs (San Pablo and Upper San Leandro).

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. This fiscal year’s drought-related costs are estimated at about $33 million. Fiscal year 2014 drought costs were $8 million and were paid out of reserves and through a surplus land sale.

Pending a Proposition 218 ratepayer notification and approval by the Board of Directors on June 9, a temporary Stage 4 drought surcharge of up to 25 percent will apply to customers’ flow charge and be used to pay for drought costs including purchase and delivery of additional water supplies, additional conservation outreach and enforcement of restrictions. If approved, the drought surcharge would take effect on July 1.

The average household using 10 units per month (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.

Excessive use and water theft must stop

On the enforcement side, two new ordinances will be heard tomorrow. The first prohibits excessive water use. The second allows EBMUD to fine persons for stealing water or making unauthorized use of a public fire hydrant.

“If approved, both excessive use and water theft will be strictly prohibited, subject to penalties and discontinuation of service, and in the most extreme cases, prosecution,” said Coate.

The proposed excessive use penalties would allow the district to penalize single family residential customers who use 4.5 times the average household, which is an average of 1,152 gallons per day. Customers subject to the penalty would be charged $2 per unit over the limit. One unit is 748 gallons. This level of use most likely indicates a customer is flagrantly wasting water and ignoring mandatory outdoor watering restrictions.

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.

“What’s in our reservoirs is only part of the picture. 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,” said Coate.

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