Water district okays mandatory use reductions

Water district okays mandatory use reductions

Michele Ellson

Updated at 3:40 p.m. Thursday, April 16 with corrections in BOLD

The East Bay Municipal Utility District's Camanche Reservoir is a third full. Photo from the district's website.

Highlights:

  • The East Bay Municipal Utility District's Board has imposed mandatory water use reductions of 20 percent as compared to 2013, effective immediately.
  • The board did not adopt penalties for failing to conserve, though customers using excessive amounts of water could face inspections, regulation of their taps or loss of service.
  • The district lengthened the list of restrictions on water use to match new state guidelines.
  • The board held off on imposing 14 percent surcharge to pay for supplemental water until July, when new rates are expected to go into effect.

East Bay water officials are imposing mandatory restrictions on water use to conserve water in the face of an extreme drought.

Officials with the East Bay Municipal Utility District are requiring customers to cut their water use by 20 percent compared with their 2013 use, in order to comply with new state regulations requiring the district to cut water use by that amount and to deal with shrinking water reserves and uncertainty about where additional water might come from or when the drought may end.

The district’s board voted unanimously on Tuesday to declare a Stage 4 drought and adopt new rules raising the amount of conservation required. The rules go into effect immediately, though only customers whose use is excessive will be penalized for failing to conserve.

District officials believe that homeowners offer one of the best bets for conservation, and that they will be able to make the mandated cuts to their water use if they follow the district’s outdoor water use restrictions. Those restrictions include rules barring customers from filling decorative ponds and fountains, hosing down driveways and sidewalks and watering grass more than twice a week.

The rules were also updated Tuesday, to prohibit restaurants from offering customers a glass of water unless it’s requested and require hotels to let guests know they can refuse daily towel and linen service.

Also on Tuesday, the board opted to hold off on imposing a 14 percent surcharge on customers’ bills to pay for supplemental water that will soon begin flowing from a federal government water project in the Central Valley. New rates to help pay for the additional water could be in place by July 1.

The utility’s board voted to ask customers to voluntarily cut their water use by 10 percent in February 2014 and 15 percent the following December; so far, customers curtailed use by 12 percent in 2014, but are so far this year only using 6 percent less water than they did in 2013, a district spokeswoman said. The push for mandatory cuts followed Governor Jerry Brown’s April 1 executive order mandating reductions in water use statewide.

California is entering its fourth year of drought, with 2014 being the driest year on record in the state and the first months of 2015 being some of the driest on record. The utility’s water reserves could dwindle to as little as half the amount it needs to serve its customers by September 30, the end of its calendar.

At the same time, the federal agency that controls the district’s supplemental water supply has cut the amount of water it will release to the district to a quarter of what it has contracted to provide – an amount that’s half of what the district plans to ask for. It’s seeking a reprieve from the restrictions and also, alternate water sources.

In addition to the changes approved Tuesday, the board will vote on April 28 on a $2 per cubic foot surcharge for homeowners who use an excessive amount of water. If approved, the surcharge would be applied to homeowners who use more than 40 units of water or 984 gallons per day, which is nearly four times the 246 gallons a day that the average homeowner uses.

The board will also consider okaying fines for people who steal water that would range from $1,000 for a first offense to $2,000 for a second offense in 12 months – higher than originally imposed. Additional offenses would garner fines of $3,000 each.

If approved, the new rules would go into effect at the end of May.

The district covers a 331-square-mile swath of Alameda and Contra Costa counties and serves 1.3 million people.

The state has set up a website to help Californians figure out how to conserve, http://saveourwater.com.

Comments

Submitted by 10dB (not verified) on Wed, Apr 15, 2015

The problem with blanket "use 20% less water" is that it's a "one-size fits all" approach that does not take into account different housing and personal situations. My wife and I are a retired couple living in a condominium. How do we use less water? We have no landscaping to water less. We don't wash our car, we take it to a car-wash that recycles its water. We only run the dishwasher when it's full. We already take fairly short showers from newer, low-flow showerheads. So where/how do we have opportunity to conserve water? Okay, we do have a couple of older toilets that use a fair amount of water on each flush, but we don't have $500 each to replace them. Maybe some carrots along with the sticks would do better for water conservation.

Submitted by Michele Ellson on Wed, Apr 15, 2015

Hey 10dB: Thanks for your comment, because it reminds me of an important point I probably should have articulated more clearly in the piece: East Bay MUD doesn't expect everyone to hit that 20 percent reduction goal in a uniform way. Their internal numbers show they anticipate that people living in single family homes will cut use 25 percent (largely based on cutting outdoor water use) and folks in multifamily buildings, 16 percent. Commercial customers are expected to cut use 13 percent, while irrigation customers - folks with large landscapes - are expected to cut 40 percent.

Submitted by Keith Nealy (not verified) on Sat, Apr 18, 2015

OK, here's another problem with the 20% across the board cuts. Either EBMUD didn't provide for it, or you didn't report on it. What about those of us who made strong efforts to cut water use for several years? We've already reduced our water use and don't see a way to cut it much further. Last billing period we used 79 gal/day.

Submitted by Michele Ellson on Sat, Apr 18, 2015

Hi Keith: Let me point you to the second paragraph of the story - it says EBMUD is asking its customers to use 20 percent less water than they used in 2013. As I also pointed out in the story, they really aren't planning any kind of enforcement of these numbers save going after folks who are using four times the amount of water the average household uses - we're talking about nearly 1,000 gallons a day.

Submitted by Charles Dutoit (not verified) on Sat, Apr 18, 2015

@Keith. I am in the same situation as well ... having already done the most I could to save water. Perhaps the trick is to significantly run up your water usage if the rains return, so it will set a high baseline from which you can easily reduce. Just kidding.

Michele, good to know there's no enforcement until 1000 g/day :)