Drought in California: New water restrictions take effect for 1.4 million East Bay residents

Highlighting a growing trend, as California’s severe drought enters its third summer, the 1.4 million East Bay residents will see new water austerity — the first since 2016 — under rules expected to be approved late at night Tuesday.

The board of the East Bay Municipal Utility District, an Oakland-based government agency, must vote to declare a drought emergency, achieve a 15% reduction in water use from 2020 levels, and limit landscape watering to no more than three days a week. in its service area, which stretches from Hayward to Crockett and includes Oakland, Walnut Creek and Richmond.

The county is also expected to introduce a 2% to 8% drought surcharge on customer bills, as well as a fine for overuse of water and rules requiring the agency to release the names of the largest household water users later this summer. The proposed rules also require restaurants to only serve tap water on request, and require hotels and motels to offer guests the option not to wash towels and linens every day. If approved, as expected, they will take effect immediately.

“We’ve seen an increase in water consumption over the past few months because January, February and March were very dry,” said Andrea Pock, spokeswoman for the East Bay MUD. “Usually people rely on winter rains to water their yards and gardens. This year they could not count on it, so they watered more. We’re trying to get people back on track.”

The district asked customers to voluntarily reduce their water use by 10% starting last April, but so far they have only cut their consumption by 6%.

The new rules are part of a growing trend in the Bay Area and California.

Last November, the San Jose Water Company, which supplies water to 1 million people in San Jose, Cupertino, Campbell, Los Gatos, Saratoga and Monte Sereno, limited landscape watering to no more than two days a week.

The company also required its residential customers to reduce their water consumption by 15% from 2019 levels or pay $7.13 in additional fees for each unit of water (748 gallons) they use in excess of that amount.

Last Thursday, the Contra Costa Water District Board, which serves 500,000 people in central and eastern Contra Costa District, voted to ask residents to reduce their water use by 15% from 2020 levels. The county did not impose mandatory watering restrictions on weekdays, but also announced that it will introduce a 15 percent drought surcharge effective July 1, which it says is needed to improve savings and offset lost revenues due to lower water sales.

The copay will be about $8 per month for an average home.

And the Alameda County Water District, which provides water to 350,000 people in Fremont, Newark and Union City, has limited lawn watering to one day a week during May and then twice a week from June through September.

California is experiencing the third consecutive year of severe drought. January, February and March this year were the driest three months of the year in Northern California since 1849, when records began.

Despite a few days of rain and snow this month, it hasn’t been enough to make up for a large rainfall deficit: reservoir levels remain below average across much of the state, with Lake Shasta, the state’s largest, only 39% full and Oroville, second. in size. , 53% filled on Tuesday.

Last July, Gov. Gavin Newsom asked Californians to voluntarily reduce their water use by 15% from 2020 levels. But from July to February, they lagged far behind, declining collectively by only 5.8%. Last month, Newsom signed executive order requiring water agencies to move to the second phase of their drought management plans, a six-phase process. Each city and water agency has different local regulations for their drought stages, but stage 2 usually means landscape watering restrictions, financial penalties to prevent more extensive use, and other restrictions.

The seven East Bay MUD tanks are 71% full. But the county says they won’t fill the water this year because the winter rainy season is over and that they will buy water from the open market this summer to reduce the risk of water shortages if the drought continues next year. Meanwhile, Sierra snowpack, the source of nearly one-third of California’s water supply, was 35% of its historical average on Tuesday.

“This is a serious drought,” said Jay Lund, a professor of environmental engineering at the University of California, Davis. “This year will be another dry year.”

The East Bay Municipal Utility District, located in Oakland, provides drinking water to 1.4 million people in Alameda and Contra Costa counties. (Map: EBMUD)