Drought continues despite weekend rainstorm

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Michael Drummond/Senior Staff

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After months of dry weather conditions, cities across Northern California saw several days of heavy rainfall this past weekend — but state officials caution that the storm is only one of many needed to alleviate the drought.

Though the storm brought nearly four inches of much-needed rainfall to the East Bay, officials of the East Bay Municipal Utilities District, which provides water to the city of Berkeley, voted unanimously Tuesday to ask their consumers to decrease water usage by 10 percent.

According to EBMUD data, the amount of water in reservoirs serving the East Bay district increased from 71 to 74 percent of capacity on average due to the rainfall.

“Every drop does help, and every storm does help,” said Abby Figueroa, a spokesperson for the district. “(We went) from a quarter of what was average for this time of year to half — but that’s still only half.”

If the forecast continues to look bleak, the board will first consider increasing its request to a 15 percent reduction and then possibly purchase additional water from the Sacramento River. As a final resort, the board may implement mandatory rationing.

Districts throughout California last administered water rations during the 1976-77 drought, when the state experienced similar conditions.

Several cities in California have already called for mandatory restrictions on water usage, including Santa Cruz, Folsom and Arroyo Grande.

Alameda County Water District, which serves Fremont, Union City and Newark, asked its consumers to reduce water usage by 20 percent shortly after Gov. Jerry Brown made similar recommendations last month.

Robert Shaver, the Alameda district’s assistant general manager, said its board of directors will discuss a potential water-use ordinance Thursday. The ordinance would restrict certain activities, such as overwatering lawns, and could be implemented as soon as Feb. 25.

In comparison, counties such as Contra Costa have not asked their consumers for any specific decreases in water use, instead encouraging them to continue to use their water efficiently.

Dennis Baldocchi, a campus professor of biometeorology, said there should be a statewide policy restricting water use. He said while those in the Bay Area have made a commendable effort to conserve water, that is not the case in other regions of the state.

“The big issues are in the Central Valley,” he said. “People have less of an incentive to save water and end up using more water because they’re in a hot, desert-sort of environment.”

Baldocchi said he thought water prices in areas like Stockton and Fresno should be higher to curb water use.

The conditions in the Central Valley are even receiving national attention. According to a White House representative, President Barack Obama is scheduled to visit Fresno on Friday to discuss the ongoing drought crisis.

The situation is also being monitored by a special task force formulated by Brown, which meets weekly to provide updates and response tactics for the critical situation.

Doug Carlson, a California Department of Water Resources information officer, said he wasn’t sure what it would take for the governor to call for mandatory water restrictions.

“We just need to keep conservation in mind,” Carlson said. “We all have the opportunity to do that — whether it’s been raining recently or not.”

Contact Angel Jennings and Tahmina Achekzai at [email protected].