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New Water Restrictions Ordered for 1.4 Million East Bay Residents, Amid Ongoing Drought Conditions

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A narrow road leading to a body of water.
EBMUD's diminished Camanche Reservoir and nearby dikes, right, are seen from this drone view near Ione, California, on July 22, 2021.  (Jane Tyska/Digital First Media/East Bay Times via Getty Images)

The East Bay Municipal Utility District's board on Tuesday approved a district-wide reduction in water use, citing an unusually dry winter and ongoing drought conditions.

In a 6-1 vote, the board declared a stage 2 drought emergency, aiming to cut total water use by 10% over 2020 rates. The measure, which takes effect immediately, also reinstates an excessive-use penalty and imposes new outdoor water-use restrictions.

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"Despite a strong rainy start in October and December, the dry winter has compelled us to move into our next phase of action to ensure we have adequate supplies in case the drought continues next year," EBMUD Board President Douglas Linney said in a statement. Linney, who was the sole dissenting vote on the board, had pushed for an even higher water-reduction goal, of 15%. The board narrowly rejected that target, amid concerns over lost water sales, but said it would revisit upping the goal in November.

EBMUD's seven reservoirs are currently 71% full and not expected to fully replenish when snow melts off the Sierra Nevada into the Mokelumne River Watershed, the agency said, referring to the primary source of drinking water for its roughly 1.4 million customers in Alameda and Contra Costa counties.

The excessive-use penalty will only be charged to households that use more than 1,646 gallons per day, and the board said it will affect fewer than 2% of its customers. After one warning, households will be charged $2 for every 748 gallons they use above the penalty threshold.

Meanwhile, outdoor watering is now limited to three times per week, while hosing down sidewalks and driveways is prohibited. Cafes and restaurants now can only provide drinking water upon request.

The agency is implementing the new conservation order a year after it asked customers to voluntarily conserve water. The mandate falls in line with an executive order signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom last month requiring water agencies across the state to move to stage 2 — out of six stages — of their independent drought plans. That order was imposed after the state fell far short of a 15% voluntary reduction in water use, as Newsom had asked for last July.

A map of the East Bay and its reservoirs.
The East Bay Municipal Utility District's service area. (Courtesy of EBMUD)

The board also said it will vote next month on imposing a new drought surcharge of about $0.10 a day on each customer's bill to cover the costs of buying supplemental water supplies and other drought-related expenses.

EMBUD's move comes as California's severe drought stretches into a third hot, dry summer, with reservoirs shrinking across the state and the Sierra snowpack — the source of almost a third of the state's water supply — at roughly 35% of its historical average.

On Tuesday, the gargantuan Metropolitan Water District of Southern California also took the unprecedented step of requiring about 6 million of its customers in mostly urban areas of Los Angeles, Ventura and San Bernardino counties to reduce outdoor watering to just one day a week. Declaring a water shortage emergency, the board is requiring some of the cities and agencies it supplies with water to enforce the cutback starting June 1, or face hefty fines.

“We don’t have enough water supplies right now to meet normal demand. The water is not there,” district spokesperson Rebecca Kimitch said. “This is unprecedented territory. We've never done anything like this before."

This post includes reporting from Bay City News and The Associated Press.

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