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Bay Area Water Districts Offering Mixed Approaches to Drought Restrictions

by Max Darrow

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) -- There are now two districts in the Bay Area with tough drought restrictions in place. San Jose Water and Marin Municipal Water District customers have a choice: cut back on their water usage, or pay up.

KPIX 5 checked in with several of the water providers throughout the Bay Area to see if they plan on imposing tougher water restrictions as the drought continues.

The Contra Costa Water District supplies around 500,000 customers in Contra Costa County. The CCWD is not proposing additional restrictions at this time, according to a spokesperson.

The Mid-Peninsula Water District supplies around 28,000 customers in Belmont and unincorporated parts of San Mateo County. A spokesperson provided KPIX 5 with the following statement:

"The MPWD initiated early water conservation messaging with its customers beginning in January this year requesting 10% voluntary reduction.  To align with the Governor's call for 15% voluntary reduction in mid-July, we promptly shifted the MPWD's program and conservation messaging to 15%.  To further get the word out, we extended our public outreach to several local community organizations and neighborhood groups and provided drought and MPWD conservation progress presentations--both virtual and in-person.

 And MPWD customers responded!

 Cumulative water savings from January 1, 2021, through October 31, 2021, when compared to the same period in 2020, are 18.9%.

 We recently created a new water conservation tracker for the MPWD system, which will be launched very soon on the MPWD home page.  We also have an action plan in place to re-brand the MPWD's customer portal to encourage increased customer participation. And, of course, we will continue our outreach with customers.

So, as a result of the early proactive steps taken and resulting positive customer response, and ongoing monitoring by staff, the MPWD does not have plans to implement restrictions yet."

The Alameda County Water District supplies around 84,000 customers in Union City, Fremont, and Newark. A spokesperson provided KPIX 5 with the following statement:

"California's drought conditions are worsening, and water agencies face challenges relative to their respective water supply constraints.

Due to worsening drought conditions both locally and statewide, on December 9, the ACWD Board of Directors will consider adoption of an ordinance declaring a water shortage emergency in Fremont, Newark and Union City. The ordinance prohibits water waste and limits outdoor irrigation while maintaining landscape viability and minimizes other non-essential use.

If the ordinance is adopted, we're asking customers to reduce water use by 15% and we have rebates and programs to help them achieve this goal.

The 15% water use reduction is across the Tri-City area. Individual customer accounts will not be subject to specific reductions levels. 

 On December 9, the Board will also discuss issuance of a Prop 218 notice and stage rates that could be imposed during a water shortage emergency. If a Prop 218 notice is authorized, a public hearing to include stage rates would take place after formal noticing and would be expected to take place in early 2022.

With limited water supplies during a drought, each drop of water is more precious. Stage rates are an added surcharge only applied in a declared water shortage emergency to encourage conservation and also provide for the District's financial stability. The financial effect to a customer will depend on their level of water consumption."

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission has around 2.7 million water customers in four Bay Area counties. They have declared a 10% water reduction from 2019-2020 levels, which will started as a voluntary call for reduction on November 23. However, a temporary surcharge of up to 5% of a customer's water bill will kick in on April 1, 2022, so long as the water shortage emergency persists. A spokesperson told KPIX 5:

"It's important to note that San Franciscans already are among the most efficient water users in the state. San Franciscans use on average 42 gallons of water per person, per day, which is less than half of the statewide average. Our wholesale customers use an average of 63.4 gallons per person per day. The state-wide average of household water use is about 90 gallons per person per day.

We know our customers will respond positively to this call to conserve even more."

 The East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) has 1.4 million customers in the East Bay.

"Right now, EB MUD is at 10% voluntary, that's what we're asking our customers to do. They've responded. We're at 11%," spokesperson Andrea Pook said. "What we're keeping a watchful eye on is how much water people are using, and the flip side of that, how much precipitation - snow and rain - are we getting."

At this time, Pook tells KPIX 5 EBMUD does not plan on introducing tougher water restrictions than they currently have in place. However, that doesn't mean that couldn't happen later on if the situation worsens.

"The decision about whether or not we're going to need additional - more severe drought restrictions - that decision is based on how much water we have and how much water people are using," she said. "Right now, our reservoirs at EBMUD - our total reservoir storage - we are at 58% full, that's about 82% of average of where we would normally be for this time of year."

She urges people across the entire Bay Area make water conservation a priority.

"The one thing that unites all of the different water agencies - and really, the Bay Area and California as a whole - is the fact that, we need to conserve. We can't take our foot off the gas pedal yet," she said.

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