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No letup on rationing, EBMUD warns

on October 2, 2008


Oct. 2 — In the five months since a drought was declared in the East Bay, Oakland residents have been warned against washing cars in their driveways, running half-empty washing machines, and asking for too much tap water at restaurants.

This morning, officials had one thing to say in response: Thanks for your effort, but we’re still in trouble.

Lesa McIntosh, EBMUD board of directors president, and Dennis Deimer, EBMUD’s general manager.


“We have received hate mail from east of the hills; we have received hate mail from west of the hills,” Lesa McIntosh, president of the East Bay Municipal Utility District’s board of directors, said at a press conference today. “We as a board have struggled with implementing the best plan. No one is 100 percent happy. [But] if this drought continues and my Indian rain dance doesn’t work, rationing will continue.”

EBMUD imposed mandatory rationing in the district on May 13 after two consecutive dry winters left the region in the midst of a water shortage. The utility, which supplies 230 gallons of water to about 1.3 million customers annually, imposed a variety of measures to encourage cutbacks in hopes of realizing a 15 percent reduction in water consumption over the following year.

The immediate impact was disappointing, with an increase in water consumption in the two weeks following the drought announcement and then a small savings in June. Five months in, EBMUD officials announced at today’s press conference, the East Bay has registered a savings of 11.3 percent, which translates to more than 12,000 acre-feet of water.

“We started off very slowly in May,” said Dennis Deimer, EBMUD’s general manager. “[But] customers are receiving the message. We continue to gain momentum.”

Despite the effort, the district measured only 415,000 acre-feet of water, well below the 600,000 acre-feet optimum, this fall.

For the water customers whose eyes glaze over at the mention of percentages and acre-feet (one acre-foot is about 325 gallons), all this boils down to two things. One: Keep rationing water. Two: If you don’t, expect your water bills to spike.

To ensure conservation, EBMUD allocated a certain amount of water to each customer and, on Aug. 1, rolled into effect new water rates that included a surcharge for additional water used. The first set of bills reflecting the surcharge are slated to be sent out tomorrow, Oct. 3. Customers who exceeded their allocation during the summer months may be in for a shock when they see their bills, meaning EBMUD may be in for more hate mail.

The new water rates will be in effect indefinitely, but most likely at least through next spring, when water officials can fully reassess the state of the district’s reservoirs, which are supplied by the Mokelumne River watershed.

According to Deimer, history has taught water officials to prepare for the worst. Last year started off well, with the region receiving two times the normal amount of rainfall in January and clocking in right on average in February. But then, nothing.

“Literally after the end of February it did not rain again,” said Deimer. “The National Weather Service is projecting another dry year. The truth of the matter is no one really knows. There’s no way to know if next year will be dry or wet.”

EBMUD asks that as cooler temperatures descend on the region, customers reduce the use of or completely cut off their outdoor irrigation systems. Customers are also asked to avoid fall plantings this season, to take shorter showers, continue washing only full loads of laundry, and repair leaks.

The utility, too, is taking a stab at conservation by vigilantly repairing leaks and “flushing” water pipes to disinfect them only when absolutely necessary for public safety, and through initiatives like the one allowing trucks to fill up on recycled water for use at construction sites.

Additionally, EBMUD is working on a regional feasibility study to explore desalination as well as the $690 million “Freeport project,” a cooperative system with Sacramento. The system, to be completed by the end of 2009, would siphon water from the Sacramento River at the town of Freeport in order to supply East Bay customers with tens of millions of gallons of additional water.

Still, Deimer acknowledged that neither the study nor the Freeport project will do anything to relieve this year’s drought, and stressed the need for continued community support.

“We’re certainly hoping it rains this next winter,” said Deimer. “But we’ll be prepared if it doesn’t.”

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