City of Berkeley exceeds expectations with drought response

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At Tuesday’s Berkeley City Council meeting, city staff presented Berkeley’s progress with curtailing water consumption in the midst of worsening drought conditions statewide, finding that the city had exceeded restriction targets set by the East Bay Municipal Utility District last spring.

EBMUD declared Stage 4 critical drought conditions in April and set a districtwide goal of reducing water usage by 20 percent. City staff shared a report at the meeting, which found that the city had reduced municipal water usage by about 29 percent and irrigation by 46 percent from 2013 levels.

While the city has primarily focused on leaks and facility improvements, it has more recently reduced irrigation to public-street medians and watering to nonessential turfs. According to the report, the city also aims to raise public drought awareness to target residential water consumption, which accounts for 57 percent of Berkeley’s total water consumption.

Municipal water usage, according to the report’s estimates from 2013, accounts for about 2 percent of all water usage in Berkeley.

After California in 2014 saw its driest year in recorded state history, Gov. Jerry Brown issued the first-ever mandatory statewide water reductions in April 2014, requiring a 25 percent statewide potable-water decrease from 2013 levels.

“This is the most critical drought that we’ve been able to plan for,” said Nelsy Rodriguez, a public information representative of EBMUD.

Turf and sports fields in the city have browned as a result of the drought and water restrictions, the report said. The city plans to restore three of them in the current fiscal year, pending approval by EBMUD.

At the meeting, Councilmember Jesse Arreguin offered suggestions on further diminishing water usage, such as planting drought-tolerant plants, using cisterns to store water and recycling greywater. He recommended watering city trees more often to avoid the eventual costs of removing them.

Additionally, the city is interested in utilizing nonpotable water, imported into the city, for city maintenance operations. Rodriguez said EBMUD hopes in the long term to expand pipelines that would allow water to be more easily recycled throughout the city.

Contact Kimberly Nielsen at [email protected].