Water district will ask customers to conserve more, pay more

Water district will ask customers to conserve more, pay more

Michele Ellson

Image courtesy of the East Bay Municipal Utility District.

Alamedans will soon be asked to both conserve more water and pay more for what they use to help preserve the East Bay’s water supply in the face of a lingering drought.

The East Bay Municipal Utility District board decided last week to ask customers to cut back their water use 15 percent from 2013 levels beginning on January 2, 2015, up from the 10 percent they’re now asking customers to cut. Starting in January, they will also impose a 14 percent surcharge to cover the bill for water they’re buying from the federal government.

“After all they’ve done, asking our customers to save more and pay more is a tough call to make, but we are fortunate to have options other water agencies don’t have. If the weather improves, we can always scale back our response,” the district’s general manager, Alexander Coate, was quoted as saying in a district-issued press release.

If the water district’s reservoirs don’t recover from the effects of the drought, it could implement mandatory rationing and penalties for excessive water use. Those steps could be implemented next summer.

The surcharge is expected to cost the average residential customer $4.30 a month, and will be put in place as soon as the additional water starts flowing from the Sacramento River and kept in place until the bill for the additional water is paid off.

If implemented, penalties for excessive use are initially proposed to be $2 per unit for customers using more than 60 units of water per month and could later be imposed on those using more than 45 units per month. Sixty units is equal to 1,500 gallons a day, roughly six times what the average household uses.

The average residential customer uses 246 gallons of water per day; a 15 percent reduction would equal a drop in water use of 37 gallons per day, which is roughly the equivalent of half a big bath.

In February, the water district – which is seeking to mitigate the effects of the drought through conservation, recycling and supplemental water purchases – asked customers to voluntarily cut their water use by 10 percent, and it has since made one purchase of Sacramento River water to supplement its existing supply.

The district has been criticized for not putting mandatory use controls in place, but district staff recommended waiting on mandatory rationing because they said it would be too costly; a district spokesperson said rationing isn’t necessary because customers are conserving on their own. Conservation efforts and water purchases will cost the district between $25 million and $35 million this year, spokeswoman Abby Figueroa said, and could cost as much as $64 million next year.

Customers have voluntarily cut their water use by 12.6 percent, the district has reported, and could be required to cut water use by 15 percent in the spring if the district’s reservoirs don’t fill back up; a 15 percent reduction in water use equals a $41 million cut to customers’ water bills, a staff presentation to the board says.

“This is our third dry year in a row. Our customers’ ongoing conservation before and during this drought is one reason why we have not had to ask for harsh cutbacks,” board president Andy Katz was quoted as saying in the district’s press release. “We do expect some more rain this winter, but possibly not enough. It is prudent to prepare to ask our customers to cut back a little more in case our reservoirs don’t refill this winter and the drought continues.”

Next year’s water purchases from the Sacramento River could cost as much as $16 million, a bill customers will pay through the surcharge. This year’s purchases were the first the district has made to supplement its water supply in the face of a drought.

The district began implementing plans to save water after three dry years that left its reservoirs about half full. Last year was one of California’s driest on record.
While the recent, above-average rainfall has helped, it still isn’t enough water to replenish the district’s reservoirs.

A typical year brings 48 inches of rainfall; so far, nearly 13 inches have fallen in the Mokelumne River watershed, which supplies most of the district’s water. In addition to the near-normal rainfall total, the district will rely on snowmelt from the Sierra Mountains to help fill its reservoirs.

The district and the state have launched aggressive campaigns to promote water conservation, and the district plans to provide additional tools to help customers cut their water use, like enhanced information on bills and an online water use calculator. The district is also investigating thousands of water waste complaints and contacting customers with suspected leaks.

In addition to asking customers to cut their water use, the district plans to do more to cut back on the water it uses. In a presentation to the board, district staff said they intend to employ leak detection technology and to use recycled water to cool the district’s headquarters.

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

Comments

Submitted by Alison Green (not verified) on Thu, Dec 18, 2014

All summer long, I watched the lawn sprinklers of Marina Village on the entire length of Atlantic, going almost every morning and evening on my way to and from work. My lawn is dead and I went without a garden (as did many of my neighbors) while others around town were out washing their cars in their driveways. The majority of water use is by agribusiness and private corporations pump water out of aquifers to bottle & sell. When is the State going to ban purchase of California bottled water in all government facilities? When is the City of Alameda going to do it? When will the pressure and sanctions be put on the biggest water wasters?