The board of the East Bay Municipal Utility District, or EBMUD, voted 6-1 on Tuesday to seek a 10% reduction in water use, the first restriction since 2016.
According to EBMUD board member John Coleman, this restriction will affect 1.4 million residents in parts of both Contra Costa and Alameda counties, including the city of Berkeley. Coleman added that the mandate comes after the driest January to March on record. The district’s goal is to have an adequate and reliable water supply for its customers for the upcoming year.
“Two years into COVID, dealing with ‘one more crisis’ isn’t an easy thing to ask but we have no choice,” said Berkeley City Councilmember Sophie Hahn in an email. “EBMUD is doing the right thing to direct us to conserve water.”
Similar to Hahn, UC Berkeley Rausser College of Natural Resources Dean David Ackerly noted these water restrictions are a “wise move” that will help the water utility district avoid having to take water from the Sacramento River, leaving more water for wildlife.
Ackerly added that campus is helping organize a network of regulators, water managers, community-based organizations and land use planners to build better water systems in the Bay Area.
“The Bay Area One Water Network is helping figure out how to transition the Bay Area to water systems that are more resilient to climate change, more equitable, and more sustainable,” Ackerly said in an email.
According to Coleman, the district plans to discuss the implementation of a drought surcharge of up to 8% to recover the expense of drought costs at their May 10 meeting.
He added that there will also be a penalty for households that exceed a threshold of about 1,646 gallons per day. Households that surpass the limit will receive one warning before being fined $2 for every 748 gallons of water used above the threshold.
“We have tried to be reasonable in our approach,” Coleman said. “Not everybody is going to like them, but let’s work with them and work with the district.”
According to the EBMUD website, restrictions include limiting outdoor watering to three times per week, prohibiting washing down sidewalks and driveways and only allowing restaurants and cafes to provide water upon request.
On a more positive note, Coleman stated that the EBMUD is in better shape than other districts because they have diversified their water portfolio and have the ability to weather drought better.
“Bay Area cities and water agencies are working together to try to diversify where our water supplies come from,” Ackerly said in the email.
Moreover, Coleman noted that EBMUD has programs and services that can help businesses and households conserve water as well as upgrade their appliances to water-efficient ones.
Coleman added that the district can conduct audits that will help improve water conservation and reduce losses.
“We have to double-down in our efforts to fight climate change, which is driving extreme and prolonged droughts and more frequent wildfires,” Hahn said in the email.