Tougher options on the table as EBMUD board considers its next drought move

OAKLAND, CA – A call for increased customer conservation, a second purchase of federal water and a 14 percent surcharge on all water used by customers will be among the staff recommendations before the East Bay Municipal Utility District Board of Directors at its Tuesday, December 9th regularly scheduled public meeting.

Starting in February 2014, EBMUD customers heeded the call for a voluntary 10 percent cutback on their water use. Since statewide mandatory outdoor water restrictions were enacted in August, customers have cut their use even further. As of November 30, all district customers combined – residential, commercial and irrigation – have reduced their use 12.6% compared to 2013.

On Tuesday, staff will recommend increasing the call for voluntary conservation to 15 percent effective January 1, 2015, and making a second purchase of water from its dry-year supply on the Sacramento River. If needed next year, EBMUD could move forward with plans for mandatory conservation, drought surcharges and penalties for excessive use next summer. An earlier version of this plan was presented at four community meetings this fall to gather public input.

“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,” said Board President Andy Katz. “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.”

A typical EBMUD household uses an average 246 gallons per day. A fifteen percent reduction is 37 gallons less.

Beyond conservation

This past April, EBMUD purchased and delivered about 18,600 acre feet of water from the Sacramento River through its federal Central Valley Project (CVP) contract. One acre foot is 325,851 gallons, or approximately the amount of water used by three average East Bay households in a year. The approximate $8 million cost of purchasing, pumping and treating that water was absorbed by the district through a surplus sale of a Castro Valley property and budget savings over the past fiscal year.

Next Tuesday, the Board of Directors will consider making a second purchase of federal water before a February 28 deadline when its current CVP allocation expires. EBMUD has 41,625 acre feet available to purchase before the deadline. Staff will recommend the board approve purchasing 16,000 acre feet starting in January to refill local reservoirs. If a federal allocation is received on March 1 and if there has not been enough precipitation in the EBMUD watershed, staff will recommend making an additional purchase of up to 19,000 acre feet.

This purchased water would flow for four months from the Sacramento River into the EBMUD system via the Freeport Regional Water Facility in Sacramento County. The cost to purchase, pump and treat it is estimated to cost up to $16 million. However, unlike last spring, this time staff will recommend the cost be recouped via a 14 percent surcharge on all customers’ water use charges to take effect as soon as the pumps are turned on. If the purchase occurs and the surcharge takes effect, the average EBMUD residential customer could see their bills increase by an average of $4.30 per month, depending on their level of conservation, until the drought costs are paid.

If the drought continues into next summer, staff is recommending higher surcharges be considered to recoup the costs of future water purchases, increased conservation outreach and lost revenue due to the drought.

Not wet enough

Most of the year, the majority of water EBMUD delivers to its 1.4 million customers originates in the Mokelumne River and is stored in Pardee and Camanche reservoirs in Amador and Calaveras counties. Today, those reservoirs are half full.

“Recent storms are helping, but water supply is about more than rain. It’s about the timing of storms, temperatures and how long snow stays on the ground before it melts,” said General Manager Alexander Coate. “We will need at least the average level of precipitation this winter and spring to be in better shape than we were this past year,” he said.

Only half of the normal precipitation expected in an average year fell in the Mokelumne watershed from July 2013 to June 2014. This past rain year was the fifth driest on record. In that time period, EBMUD reservoirs received only one-third their normal runoff.

“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,” said Coate.

The Board of Directors meets at the EBMUD Administration Building at 375 11th Street in Oakland at 1:15 pm next Tuesday, December 9.