EBMUD to bring in drought year water supplies

Dismal precipitation this past winter and no end in sight to the state drought led the East Bay Municipal Utility District’s Board of Directors today to approve the purchase and delivery of about 16,000 acre feet of water from the Sacramento River to local East Bay reservoirs. The purchase adds approximately a month’s worth of water to the supply used to meet the drinking water needs of 1.3 million East Bay customers.

The Board of Directors also voted to reaffirm their February 11th decision asking all customers to cut water use voluntarily by ten percent. In the past two months, customers heeded the call to action and have cut back that amount.

Despite the increased conservation by customers, disappointing precipitation this season did not refill reservoirs. Today, staff members presented their latest water supply forecast for the year. The forecast showed, in the worst-case scenario, EBMUD water reservoirs could be less than half full by this fall. This is due to the Mokelumne River watershed receiving only half of its normal precipitation this past rainy season and low runoff levels from the reduced snowpack projected later this spring. Nearly all of the East Bay’s drinking water originates in that watershed.

“But for the first time in EBMUD’s history, a severe drought does not mean severe cutbacks,” said Andy Katz, board president. “Thanks to customers’ ongoing conservation measures, ratepayer investment and EBMUD’s prudent water management, we have options that weren’t available to us in past droughts.”

This May and June, about 16,000 acre feet of water from the Sacramento River will flow into two East Bay reservoirs: Upper San Leandro Reservoir in Oakland and San Pablo Reservoir located between Orinda and El Sobrante. One acre foot is 325,851 gallons, or approximately the amount of water used by three average East Bay households in a year.

Using a combination of conservation and back-up supplies to cope with California’s inevitable droughts has been EBMUD’s plan in-the-works for more than forty years. Tapping the Sacramento River during this drought is possible thanks to the near half-billion dollar investment ratepayers made in the Freeport Regional Water Facility, which includes the Sacramento River intake, 36 miles of pipeline and 2 pumping plants. That delivery system connects the Sacramento River to the three EBMUD aqueducts that cross the Delta.

“We have a good estimate of how much water will be in our reservoirs this fall, but we don’t know how much longer this drought will last,” said General Manager Alexander Coate. “The water we are purchasing reduces the immediate need for harsher cutbacks or mandatory rationing and it protects our supply from becoming unacceptably low later this year. We are focused now on helping customers manage their use this summer as temperatures and water demand increases, and preparing for the possibility that this drought continues into 2015.”

If next winter’s precipitation is as dire as this past year’s and storage levels continue to drop, EBMUD has the option later this year to increase voluntary customers cutbacks beyond ten percent, enact mandatory rationing and/or purchase up to another 43,600 acre feet of Sacramento River water through its federal contract or other water transfers.

Delivery of Sacramento River water is subject to a 14 percent surcharge added to customers’ bimonthly billed flow charges. The surcharge covers the additional costs of buying, treating and delivering water from the Sacramento River.

The Board of Directors waived that surcharge for the Sacramento River water to be delivered this May and June. Purchasing, treating and delivering the 16,000 acre feet this spring will cost EBMUD about $8 million – the cost of which will be absorbed by the district through funds from a surplus sale of a Castro Valley property last January and budget savings over the past fiscal year. The surcharge may be implemented later this year if additional Sacramento River water is needed to fill local reservoirs.