East Bay water district purchases $8 million worth of water to combat drought effects

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In response to a severe, ongoing statewide drought, the East Bay Municipal Utility District Board of Directors purchased $8 million of water Tuesday and reinstated a recommendation that its customers reduce water use.

The water district bought 16,000 acre feet of water — enough to fill almost 8,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools — from the Sacramento River to top off East Bay reservoirs. The purchase is expected to supply a month’s drinking-water needs of the 1.3 million customers in the East Bay.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, the East Bay is in the midst of an extreme to exceptional drought — the highest two levels of intensity.

In the past two months, East Bay customers successfully cut back water use by 10 percent, as the district had asked in  February. On Tuesday, EBMUD extended that request.

“For the first time in EBMUD’s history, a severe drought does not mean severe cutbacks,” said EBMUD Board President Andy Katz in a statement.

As of Sunday, the water supply was at 61 percent of capacity in the East Bay reservoirs — 471,000 acre feet — which is 75 percent of average capacity.

As temperatures rise in the summer, water use spikes as customers water lawns and irrigate farms. EBMUD is asking industrial and domestic customers to reduce their water use by inspecting systems for leaks. One broken sprinkler can waste up to 1,000 gallons of water per day, the district said.

If the precipitation levels in the Mokelumne River watershed are as low next winter as they were this year, the water district may be forced to increase voluntary cutbacks, purchase more water or implement mandatory rationing. The nearby Alameda County Water District, which supplies water to Fremont, Newark and Union City, implemented mandatory water-use restrictions in mid-March.

While EBMUD can estimate how much water will fill the reservoirs this fall, it does not know how long the drought will last.

“We are focused now on helping customers manage their use this summer as temperatures and water demand increase, and preparing for the possibility that this drought continues into 2015,” said EBMUD General Manager Alexander Coate in a statement.

The water district is also working to educate its customers about the impact cutting back domestic consumption can make on overall water use. Showerheads and faucets can be retrofitted with aerators, which help conserve water. Aerators are sold inexpensively at hardware stores and provided by EBMUD free of charge.

UC Berkeley is also making an effort to reduce its water consumption by retrofitting toilets and urinals to use about half the water they normally require per flush.

“This is an opportunity, especially for students who are not from California, who are not used to periodic droughts, to learn what kind of actions you can take,” said Lisa McNeilly, campus director of sustainability. “Look to see if there are a few new habits you can adopt to use less water.”


Contact Taryn Smith at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @tarynshelby.