Water district continues negotiations on the Lake Chabot Dam seismic improvement project
on October 29, 2015
The East Bay Municipal Water District provided updates on drought measures, difficult labor negotiations, and watershed restoration after the Butte wildfire during a lengthy three-hour public meeting on Tuesday.
First, EBMUD’s directors addressed the publicity stemming from its naming of 1,108 excessive water users on October 15. The culprits included Oakland A’s executive Billy Beane, venture capitalist Mark Pine and retired Chevron executive George Kirkland. EBMUD defines “excessive” as using more than 59,840 gallons (80 units) of water per billing period.
“EBMUD is required to make excessive users public,” and released the names following a request by ABC7 News, said supervisor Andy Katz, whose District 4 includes North Oakland. Katz cited Article 10, Section 2 of the California state constitution, which prohibits water waste. Katz, however, thinks pricing—and EBMUD’s $2 per unit penalty above the 80 unit threshold—is a better way to encourage conservation. “Water districts,” he said, “should have some discretion besides ‘naming and shaming.’”
Nearly three hours later, the board voted to continue labor negotiations on the Lake Chabot Dam seismic improvement project. The project aims to make the 140-year old dam better stand up to earthquakes, because its failure could flood parts of San Leandro. The district sees this $12 million dam job as a “pilot” negotiation to build a long-term relationship between labor and EBMUD for future projects.
But negotiations for a project labor agreement (PLA) between the district and Alameda County Building Trades Council remain at an impasse after 18 months, reported EBMUD engineering manager Jimi Yoloye.
“What the agency did,” said Andreas Cluver, secretary-treasurer of the Alameda County Building Trades Council, speaking later this week, “is they came in with language that was outside the standard language of 19 previous PLAs with public sector agencies. That upset the whole process.”
“I am disappointed at the lack of progress,” Katz told labor representatives and EBMUD staff after each group addressed the supervisors at Tuesday’s meeting. “These are common-sense issues… I don’t think we should have to re-invent the wheel to get an agreement.”
EBMUD’s supervisors hope to clinch that agreement before soliciting bids for 21 long-term water conservation projects totaling about $37 million. That total includes about $25 million in upgrades to the Orinda water treatment plant, largest of six EBMUD plants, which can process over 375 million gallons of water per day.
All commissioners present voted to continue the Chabot Dam negotiations, except board president Frank Mellon. Mellon, a labor relations expert, abstained in order to implore all sides to get a deal. “I had to be somewhere at three o’clock,” Mellon said as the meeting dragged on, “but this is too damn important.”
Mellon mentioned the requirement under the Seismic Safety Act to retrofit the 140-year old dam—labor deal or not. “If we can’t get creative,” he said, “this still has to move forward.”
In the meeting’s, legislative update, special assistant to the general manager Marlaigne Dumaine reported that twelve of 27 legislative bills of interest to EBMUD became law in 2015, including bills on protecting the Mokelumne River, water conservation, and wastewater management. Most of the rest that did not get Governor Jerry Brown’s signature relate to greenhouse gas emissions, according to Dumaine, and won’t see action until 2016. Brown prefers to do things administratively when possible, rather than passing new laws, Dumaine said, and “Anything that’s an ongoing cost to the general fund he looks at very critically.”
The meeting concluded with a quick update on the aftermath of the Butte Fire that burned upstream from Pardee Reservoir. According to fishery and wildlife manager Jose Setka, EBMUD will consider paying about $2,500 per acre to drop straw from aircraft over more than 2,000 acres of burnt landscape. The straw will prevent massive erosion by diffusing the force of raindrops hitting the ground from heavy El Nino precipitation.
With his quorum disappearing as supervisors began heading to other commitments, Mellon then tabled other business until the next meeting.
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