EBMUD Ward 3 Briefing Offers Carrots and Stick to Users

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Marguerite Young, recently elected EBMUD board member representing District 3 (Piedmont and a portion of Oakland including part of Rockridge; Orinda and El Sobrante; Moraga; and portions of Pinole and Richmond) convened a district-wide luncheon briefing early in June for representatives from cities, fire and police departments, and community organizations to present EBMUD's long-term water supply plans, local watershed efforts, infrastructure, and response to the drought.

Naturally, the drought was uppermost on the minds of the audience. EBMUD officials addressed changes in water rates, current water supply status, and water conservation. The message heard many times in the briefing was, "Hope is not a strategy," and the district described a proactive response to ensure water supply for customers.

With reservoirs at about 51 percent of capacity, the district is participating in the Freeport regional water project with Sacramento County and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to obtain more water, and with the Central Valley Water Project (CVP) to deliver an additional 90 million gallons of water per day from the CVP to customers during the drought.

For the long term, EBMUD is in conversation with other agencies to provide additional supplies, and is participating in the San Joaquin County water banking demo project. Another possible source is water released for other uses by rice farmers in Colusa County who agree to take some of their acreage out of production.

To improve the existing system, EBMUD is working on infrastructure upgrades. The system consists of six treatment plants, 167 reservoirs, and a 4,200 mile pipeline distribution system, longer than the distance to the East Coast from California. This year alone, $5.5M is going towards pipeline replacement in Oakland, Orinda, and Richmond. In Rockridge, pipes dating from 1897 and 1923 are being replaced on the 5100 and 5200 blocks of Miles Avenue. Old cast iron pipes like these account for 75 percent of leaks in the system. Pipeline replacement has averaged about 10 miles per year, mostly of 100 years or older lines; the replacement rate will be increased to 40 miles per year, which will reduce water loss, EBMUD said.

The greatest concern of attendees was how changes in rates and conservation requirements will affect EBMUD consumers. How much of a billing increase will customers see? Does EBMUD offer incentives and assistance? When do charges go into effect?

EBMUD measures water delivered to households in units. Each unit is 748 gallons: a 10 unit per month user (the average) consumes 7,480 gallons per month, or 246 gallons per day. As of April 15, EBMUD declared a Stage 4 drought. This means there will be a rate increase beginning July 1 to cover the described infrastructure improvements, and a 25 percent drought surcharge to cover the purchase of additional water supplies, conservation efforts, and penalty enforcement. A mandatory 20 percent use reduction compared to 2013 will go into effect; an excessive user penalty of $2 per unit, which applies only to households using more than 1000 gallons per day, or about 4X the average, will be assessed. The average customer under the rate increase and the 25 percent surcharge will see, approximately, a $12 per month increase in water bills.

Customers who cut water use to less than 100 gallons per day will be recognized as "Supersavers." EBMUD offers free leak detection kits, low flow toilet and smart washer rebates, and other incentives through http://ebmud.com/water-and-drought/conservation-and-rebates/. Rebates and conservation assistance are also available to businesses.

Marguerite Young and district staff presented an informative meeting: at times alarming (see photos of one of the reservoirs on EBMUD's Web site), but also somewhat reassuring, considering increased supply and fixes for aging infrastructure. And for the health of the salmon and other wildlife that depend on the Mokelumne River and the reservoirs where EBMUD obtains and stores water, the district is committed to maintaining cold water flows and critical habitat.