In face of drought, water district considers rationing, higher rates

In face of drought, water district considers rationing, higher rates

Dave Boitano

CORRECTION: The Alamedan misstated the amount and timing of water rate surcharges being considered by the East Bay Municipal Utility District. The corrected information has been added below, in BOLD. The Alamedan regrets the error.

On a warm, dry November night, officials of the East Bay Municipal Utility District discussed plans to respond to the current drought by financially rewarding residents in Alameda and the district's other cities who save water and penalizing those who squander it.

The meeting Wednesday, in Oakland, was the third in a series of four hearings designed to gather public comment on a rate plan that could go into effect if California does not get sufficient rainfall in November and December.

The need for a wet winter has never been greater. Last year was one of the driest rain seasons on record. Meteorologists have said that the state could experience an El Niño type winter where warmer water temperatures in the Pacific Ocean cause higher than average rainfall, but say they cannot predict how much rainfall the state is likely to get.

On average, the district’s Mokelumne watershed - which feeds the utility district's reservoirs - gets 48 inches of rain per season, which translates into 745,000 acres feet of runoff and 600,000 gallons of water available for storage and use.

But this year only 26.69 inches of rain has fallen, reducing runoff to 262,000 acre feet. The district has managed to hold 404,000 gallons in storage by purchasing additional Sacramento River water from the United States Bureau of Reclamation and saving water through conservation. District officials said East Bay residents have responded to their call for a 10 percent cutback in water use by saving more than 11 percent.

While the district has not mandated limits on daily water use it has adopted outdoor use restrictions which include banning use of water to clean sidewalks and washing cars and other vehicles with a hose that does not have a shutoff valve.

If the drought continues over the next month, the district will have to buy more water and adopt new drought water rates to pay for it and the costs of operating the system. The utility district's board will consider adoption of a plan in December that could begin raising rates as soon as January.

During the last drought of 2007-08, customers' charges were based on how much water they used between 2005 and 2007. But water conscious customers complained that they are being penalized for past conservation efforts by getting a lower allocation than those who did not cutback during those years.

The rate system proposed Wednesday will treat everyone equally at first by imposing a 14 percent surcharge on all of the East Bay water district's customers as early as January if the district needs to buy more water from the Sacramento River. If the board determines the drought is more severe, water district staff is recommending mandatory rationing and also, increasing drought surcharges to 20 percent to 25 percent of a customer's bill, with additional charges for customers using excessive water and rebates for those who conserve; those charges could be discussed in the spring of 2015 and implemented next summer.

The average utility district customer who uses 246 gallons per day would pay between $48 and $52 per month if the water supply was adequate to require only voluntary conservation and $54 to $56 a month if conservation was mandatory.

Excessive users who consume more than 1,720 gallons per day would pay $308 to $349 monthly if only voluntary conservation is needed and $366 to $402 if conditions were dry enough to warrant mandatory cutbacks. The monthly bill could go as high as $627 if a household uses a whopping 2,457 gallons daily.

Diligent water conservers who can get by only 50 gallons a day would get a rebate of $2 per month not to exceed $24 a year.

Board president Andy Katz took issue with the plan to define excessive use beginning at 1,720 gallons per day. The drought has progressed to the point that the district should start levying penalties on those who consume 737 gallons a day or more, he said.

“That (1,720 gallons daily) is a lot of water coming out of the reservoir and not used in an appropriate way,” he said.


Submitted by C. (not verified) on Thu, Nov 6, 2014

How many loads of clothes, dishes, toilet flushes, showers would 737 gallons a day of water constitute? Family size is not being factored in?

Submitted by Michele Ellson on Thu, Nov 6, 2014

Hey C: Excellent question. There's a wealth of information about water usage and ways to save here that might get you closer to an answer: They're thumbnailing the average household water use in California at 192 gallons a day, much of it outdoors (watering grass and stuff like that).

Submitted by Laura (not verified) on Thu, Nov 6, 2014

There is only a 58% chance of an El Nino this winter, and according to today's report from NOAA, if it does happen "it is likely to be weak."’-away

Submitted by Michele Ellson on Thu, Nov 6, 2014

Hey C: Should have noted that our story says EBMUD customers 9as opposed to Californians as a whole) average 246 gallons a day of water use. Also, here's a PowerPoint that walks you through the proposal, among other things: