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Drought Emergency: EBMUD To Draw 11 Billion Gallons From Sacramento River To Supplement Supplies

OAKLAND (CBS SF/KPIX) – Amid the ongoing drought, officials with the East Bay Municipal Utility District announced it would draw supplemental water from the Sacramento River for the next several months.

The district, which serves more than 1.4 million customers in Alameda and Contra Costa counties, said it would pump 35,250 acre-feet of water to boost its supplies on the Mokelumne River through February. EBMUD said the amount of water is about 11 billion gallons, which represents almost 20% of customer water needs for one year.

The latest efforts to make it through the drought will mean a change in the tap water for hundreds of thousands of East Bay residents.

A lot of water districts are reaching for the emergency lever during the current drought. EBMUD has started that process and it might mean a change in the flavor or smell of customers' water. Officials stressed that water is treated to meet or exceed all state and federal standards.

"As soon as this week, customers are going to start getting water from the Sacramento river," says Tracie Morales with EMUD. "So customers might notice a change. It's a different watershed, it's a different source."

Water is being pumped from the Sacramento River through the $500 million Freeport Regional Water Facility, which was completed in 2011. The facility was previously used to pump water during the historic drought between 2014 and 2016.

"Because it's a different source, they might notice a different taste or a different characteristic in the water," Morales says.

When Freeport was used during the last drought many residents did notice the difference.

For me, it was like a little sulfur kind of taste in the background of the water," says Brooke Bennett of El Sobrante. "More of an aftertaste, even almost an odor as well that went along with it."

But in between droughts, the district has been working on this problem, adding additional treatment steps at the two facilities that will be processing the newly diversified water.

"We've invested more than $46 million in improvements to the treatment plants that are going to be treating the Sacramento River water," Morales explains. "We have an ozone system to address some of those taste or smell issues that might have been an issue in the previous drought."

It should be a couple of days before the newly mixed water reaches taps across the East Bay MUD district.

"We've planned and invested for decades to make our water supply resilient and now our plans are paying off," Board President Doug Linney said in a statement. "Ensuring reliable water supplies requires a diverse water supply portfolio including conservation, recycled water, and use of supplemental supplies – we're doing it all."

Earlier this year, the agency declared a Stage 1 drought and asked customers to voluntarily cut back usage by 10%. Since July, the agency said customers have saved nearly 8% compared to last year.

The district said as of October 1, total system storage is about 437,000 acre-feet, 76% of average and 57% of capacity.

EBMUD said the cost of purchasing and delivering the supplemental water is nearly $15 million, which is being funded by budgeted operations costs. The district said it plans to pursue additional water transfers for the upcoming year.

Wilson Walker contributed to this report.

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