Water pump redirects life source to East Bay

Half full San Pablo Reservoir goads first ever EBMUD Freeport usage

By Lorenzo Morotti, Editor-in-Chief

As California is in its fourth year facing a drought, East Bay Municipal Utilities District is diverting water from the Sacramento River for the first time in its history.

EBMUD Public Affairs Representative Nelsy Rodriguez said on April 14 the district board unanimously approved usage of the Freeport Regional Water Project to pump water to the San Pablo Reservoir, which is at 54 percent of its capacity.

Earlier this month, Gov. Jerry Brown also made history by directing a mandatory 25 percent statewide water usage reduction.

The district, in collaboration with Sacramento County Water Agency, helped build the Freeport water treatment and pump station for a total cost of $1 million, and was finished in 2010.

However, this is the first time the district has had to divert water to ensure its 1.3 million people living in its service area that reached the reservoir on Saturday, and it could possibly hit customers’ wallets.

Rodriguez said, “(EBMUD is) currently in the process of raising the surcharge of water by 25 percent by June.

“It will be doing this through a districtwide water election that is allowed through Proposition 218. It will be mailing out notices to people in the service area who have an opportunity, until June 9, to oppose this surcharge. But, if people decide to not vote or forget to, EBMUD will consider that as a ‘yes vote’ and will impose the surcharge.”

She said if voters approve this surcharge, the revenue raised will be used to pay off the remainder of the cost of using the Freeport water treatment and pump station to send water to the East Bay.

Ninety percent of the East Bay’s water supply comes from the Mokelumne River Basin, northeast of its service area.

She said after the water is pumped from the Sacramento River, it travels through the Pardee Dam and Camache Reservoir before being funneled along the Mokelumne Aqueduct to the San Pablo Reservoir.

Rainfall in the basin this January, however, reached historic lows, only seeing 0.15 inches of precipitation compared to the 8.7 inch average.

“Water levels are dropping every day and, with the rain season over, there is nothing on the horizon until August, November or December,” Rodriguez said. “We have (5 percent of) snowfall in the Sierra Nevada so all the water that is left is in the reservoirs which are mostly half full. We have enough water to get us through this year and next year if this dry weather continues. But after that we are looking at a difficult situation.”

The statewide snowpack plummeted from 25 percent to its current state from last year. Contributing to the driest four-year period in the state’s history, second to 1987-1990, according to Tuesday’s EBMUD Water Supply Board Briefing Report.

To cope with these mandatory state water reductions, Costa Community College District Chief Facilities Planner Ray Pyle said the district will be working to compile comprehensive data in regards to water usage at campuses districtwide to provide to the state Chancellor’s Office.

Pyle said most people do not know that this district has multiple water service providers due to how far apart the three campuses are located from each other.

“We get five to 10 different water bills every month,” he said. “And the multiple meters at each college has its own bill because (the district) gets it water from different sources.

“We should have the data ready for the Chancellor’s Office (as of press time today or Thursday). We have to gather all the bills and aggregate each campus’ water usage along with the district as a whole — it won’t be easy.”

Contra Costa College Buildings and Grounds Manager Bruce King agreed with Pyle when he said it is difficult to track the water usage on campus because it has four separate water meters.

“It is very important we conserve water, but it’s hard to do much else outside changing up the landscape, which uses the most water on campus and throughout California.

King said Buildings and Grounds workers recently replaced landscape areas with mulch and drought resistant plants, tearing out water dependent grass and plants.