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EBMUD planning past drought to “water fix”

on November 11, 2015

The East Bay Municipal Utilities District awarded water conservation awards, heard about a wet start to the El Nino season, and heard an update on California’s “water fix” proposal at its November 10 meeting.

The “water fix” is an evolving $15.5 billion Bay Delta conservation plan to stabilize water diversions in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. The most expensive and controversial part involves building two huge tunnels, thirty miles long, from Courtland to Tracy. Governor Jerry Brown has championed the proposal for years, but has met stiff resistance from some Delta landowners and environmentalists worried that the tunnels will just divert the drought and environmental damage elsewhere. Many Northern Californians also worry the tunnels could mean more water diversions from their region.

Since 2009, Brown has pushed for $25 billion in new water projects to deal with drought and climate change. The $7.5 billion dollar water bond passed overwhelmingly by the legislature and voters in November 2014 hinged on a compromise–that it would be “tunnel neutral.” So the debate continues. “It’s been totally separated into two separate plans,” said associate senior civil engineer Paul Gilbert-Snyder in his report to the board.

“At the federal level,” special assistant to the general manager Marlaigne Dumaine said, “the administration is working hard to get this done.” That is because both President Barack Obama’s and Brown’s terms will run out by 2017. But Dumaine expects a “very contentious hearing with the state water resources board” that could last one to two years.

In El Nino news, the Mokelumne River Watershed–EBMUD’s primary water source–has received twenty inches of snow and nearly seven inches of rain so far this fall. According to manager of maintenance and operations Eileen White, that is about 124 percent of the seasonal average. While not nearly enough to relieve the drought, she said, it is a good start. “Hopefully with the snow level what it is today,” said White, “it will keep up and we’ll be on our way out.”

On October 28, EBMUD released a second list of “excessive water users,” defined as using more than 59,840 gallons (80 units) of water per billing period. The vast majority of the excessive users live in wealthy suburbs east of the Berkeley and Oakland Hills. But some have questioned whether the names should have been publicly released. “This is a FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] issue,” EBMUD president Frank Mellon said. “I sympathize with some of the customers, but not many.”

At the start of the meeting, EBMUD handed out seventeen water smart business certification awards to seventeen businesses and organizations in the East Bay. The two biggest winners included the city of Alameda, which won an award for four buildings, and each branch of Berkeley’s public libraries.

Correction: An earlier version of this article mixed up the attributions for quotes between Ms. Dumaine and Ms. White. It also described EBMUD’s position on the California “water fix” proposal as support. EBMUD currently has taken no official position on the “water fix,” according to environmental affairs officer Doug Wallace.



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