May 11, 2022

Water use will be capped in Oakland, Berkeley amid drought fears

The East Bay Municipal Utilities District Board of Directors voted on Tuesday to cap household water use in much of Contra Costa and Alameda counties, including Oakland and Berkeley, marking a milestone important to deal with the state’s severe drought situation.

The move comes as the state faces its third dry year with shrinking reservoirs and a much lower than normal snowpack, despite recent rains. Water agency staff said the region is expected to experience one of the driest wet spells on record.

In another sign of the difficulties facing California’s water providers, a huge water district in Southern California voted on Tuesday to limit outdoor watering to just one day a week for six million people in Los Angeles and around neighboring counties – something the district has never done before, according to the Los Angeles Times.

East Bay’s water limits are generous but are nonetheless a rarity for the Bay Area during drought. They allow households to use up to 1,646 gallons per day, which is far more than the average usage of around 200 gallons per day. The agency expects only about 1-2% of clients to exceed the limit, which the agency may tighten over time.

The new rules limiting water use come into effect immediately and the council will make a decision in May on the amount of fines for customers who exceed the limits.

Only a few other local river basin districts have instituted caps during the current drought. These include San Jose Water Co. and the Marin Municipal Water District – although the Marin District ended the boundaries after torrential rains in December.

People walk nearby and play in receding waters at sunset at Camanche Reservoir in Ione, Amador County. The reservoir is part of the Municipal District of East Bay.

Leah Millis/The Chronicle 2015

The East Bay Water Agency vote also mandates a district-wide goal to reduce water use by 10%.

In addition to plugs, customers will be prohibited from filling decorative fountains or basins that do not have water circulation. Residential and commercial customers are not permitted to wash sidewalks and driveways with a hose.

People will also need to use a hose with a shut-off nozzle to wash their vehicles. Restaurants and bars can only provide water on request and hotel guests must say they want towels and linens washed daily.

Six MPs voted in favor of the measures. Council Chairman Doug Linney was the only one to vote against, saying the council should have committed to a higher water reduction target than it ultimately voted on – at 15%.

Another board member said customers have already “done a hell of a job of cutting back”.

The board will revisit whether to institute a higher district-wide water reduction target in November.

A resident identified on the webcast of the meeting as Gary II told the council that he had reduced his water usage due to the drought conditions, but was unsure how to reduce by 10 or 15%. Council members clarified that individuals would not have to reduce their consumption by this amount, as it is a district-wide target.

Another public commentator, identified on the webcast as Richard, supported the measures. He said he removed parts of his lawn, vegetation and fruit trees to use less water.

“We have been going through these droughts for years now,” he said, calling for more action against those who exceed prescribed thresholds.

Water is “a very precious resource and we need to conserve it,” said Richard.

Chronicle writer Kurtis Alexander contributed to this report.

Sarah Ravani (her) is a staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: sravani@sfchronicle.comTwitter: @SarRavani

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