East Bay Municipal Utility District declares Stage 1 drought

Photo of California drought land
Jonathan Gross/Creative Commons

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The East Bay Municipal Utilities District, or EBMUD, Board of Directors declared a Stage 1 drought April 27, indicating a water shortage that has implications for both Bay Area residents and plant life.

The declaration followed the death of hundreds of acres of trees in the East Bay Regional Park District, which started in October, partially caused by the second-driest year of rainfall on record in the region.

“California is sort of a droughty place, and so with that Mediterranean climate it is sort of a regular period of seasonal drought, but what’s been happening lately are these large, wide-scale single and multi-year droughts,” said Jodi Axelson, campus assistant cooperative extension specialist in the department of environmental science, policy and management. “The combined effect of hotter temperatures with moisture stress is putting trees under novel stress, causing tree mortality.”

Axelson noted that drought can weaken trees to diseases or pests that would normally be manageable, but under extreme stress, can lead to death. She said climate change and forest management practices both played roles in last year’s wildfire season.

The declaration gives EBMUD the ability to obtain supplemental water from other sources and request residents to voluntarily decrease their water usage, according to EBMUD spokesperson Andrea Pook.

“EBMUD’s reservoir system is 69% full. This is enough to get through the next few years, but we will need customers to use water wisely so we can stretch supplies,” said EBMUD director Andy Katz in an email. “Most Berkeley residents are very efficient with their water use, so we’re asking residents to keep conserving.”

Katz added that the goal of these conservation efforts is to reduce water consumption by 10% and that the board will reassess conditions in the future. Depending on prevailing conditions, the board could lift the drought declaration or declare a further stage in 2022, according to Katz.

The last drought began in 2013 and became a Stage 4 Critical Drought in 2015, according to EBMUD.

“We need to be managing these forests with recognition of what their historical structures used to look like before we got good at suppressing fires,” Axelson said. “It’s complex, and there’s no silver bullets in this era of rapid change. It’s the way we interact and behave and the choices we make in our ecosystems.”

Katz noted that EBMUD is encouraging residents to save water by fixing leaks, washing full loads of laundry and using water only when rinsing while washing their hands. Axelson also recommended that residents plant native, drought-tolerant species and take steps to understand the signs of ecological stress on nearby plants.

Contact Emma Taila at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @emmataila