City of Berkeley’s water supplier declares 20 percent cutback on water usage

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Earlier this week, the city of Berkeley’s water supplier declared a Stage 4 critical drought and a 20 percent cutback on water usage for all its customers — including Berkeley — and implemented additional restrictions following Gov. Jerry Brown’s recent executive order.

The East Bay Municipal Utility District’s prohibitions and restrictions will remain in effect until the drought emergency is over. The restrictions ask customers to water landscapes no more than two nonconsecutive days per week, to only water landscapes before 9 a.m. or after 6 p.m. and to eliminate all runoff water.

“Both excessive use and water theft will be strictly prohibited, subject to penalties and discontinuation of service, and in the most extreme cases, prosecution,” said the general manager of EBMUD, Alexander Coate, in a press release.

The city has already adopted some of these practices, such as limiting irrigation to twice a week. Turf on public street medians, however, will no longer be watered in response to the EBMUD guidelines.

“It’s going to be a culture shift,” said Councilmember Jesse Arreguin. “People are going to have to change their lifestyles and really just be conscientious of it, but it’ll take time.”

City staff are analyzing how to further comply with the EBMUD requirements, in part through consultation with EBMUD staff, according to a staff report.

The city will continue to reduce water use with investments in water conservation equipment, leak repair, improved irrigation systems and conversion to more drought-tolerant landscaping, according to the report.

EBMUD will have about 14 billion gallons stored in reservoirs by the end of the year if the 20 percent goal is reached — enough to supply nearly 156,000 average homes for a year, according to the press release.

“Reducing our water usage by 20% is a good start, but climate models suggest that California will continue to experience water scarcity in the future as our climate continues to warm,” said B. Lynn Ingram, a UC Berkeley professor of earth and planetary science, in an email. “We need to increase our resilience to water scarcity for the long-term, with a whole portfolio of measures.”

Plans were already in place to lower EBMUD’s water usage prior to the order, according to Abby Figueroa, an EBMUD spokesperson. The outdoor watering restrictions, however, were adopted to align with the order alongside the framework set by the State Water Resources Control Board.

Brown’s executive order mandates the state’s local water supply agencies to reduce the state’s water consumption by 25 percent — a first in California history. Brown proclaimed a drought-induced state of emergency last year.

“Our reservoirs are about half full — we’ve taken these measures because our water supplies are at critical levels,” said EBMUD spokesperson Tracie Morales. “We’re using all the tools in our toolbox to make efforts to increase conservation.”

By the end of this summer, EBMUD projects their water supply levels to be at near record lows, she said.

Contact Cassie Ippaso at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @cassippaso.

A previous version of this article misspelled the acronym for EBMUD.