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EBMUD Board Declares Stage 1 Drought; Voluntary 10% Conservation Ordered

OAKLAND (CBS SF) -- The East Bay Municipal Utility Board of Directors voted unanimously Tuesday afternoon to declare a stage 1 drought for the water district.

EBMUD spokesperson Andrea Pook confirmed to CBS SF that that the entire board was united in the stage 1 drought declaration. The vote was based on projections that water runoff will fall below what is needed to refill EBMUD reservoirs this year.

"If we are close to '77, I really hope we're not close to '76 next year." said EBMUD Board Member Marguerite Young during the meeting, referring to the driest year on record.

Staff members from the utility provider presented its 2021 Water Supply Availability and Deficiency Report and recommended the board establish a district-wide voluntary water use reduction of 10 percent.

Pook noted that the voluntary conservation effort would aim for a 10 percent reduction collectively, meaning that some customers can save more and some can save less because they've already implemented conservation measures.

Under the stage 1 drought, the district will purchase supplemental water from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation's Central Valley Project. Most of EBMUD's water comes from Sierra snowmelt above the Mokelumne River.

The board will also consider tapping Sacramento River water through the Freeport Regional Water Project, which it's done during previous droughts. The Freeport facility is a joint EBMUD project with the Sacramento County Water Agency.

Pook said EBMUD would set up its water purchase now and prepare the Freeport Regional Water Facility. The board will reassess the situation in late June to make final decision about whether or not they will be purchasing water.

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors also approved a resolution declaring a drought emergency Tuesday, calling on the governor to push for federal intervention after local water reservoir levels reached record lows this year.

East Bay residents KPIX spoke to Tuesday were prepared for the declaration.

"Just by looking at the earlier part of the year, when we weren't getting a lot of rain, we knew already that we were headed this direction," said San Leandro resident Mark Pabilona.

Pabilona anticipated voluntary cutbacks were coming. This is not his first drought. He swapped out his landscaping back in 2015.

"Replaced my lawn here, and the groundcover in the back," he said. "It doesn't need water every day; could be watered every seven days."

"When we take some of these initial drought actions -- and we ask our customers to reduce their water use, or we bring in additional resources of water -- the purpose of that is to protect ourselves if next year is dry or even the year after that," explained Director of Water and Natural Resources Mike Tognolini.

Board members say waiting to make similar moves in the last drought ultimately cost water and money. This time they're trying to stay ahead of a drought that could be just beginning.

"I think the expectation is that as our climate changes, we are going to see more extremes," Tognolini said. "We're going to see some very very wet years, and we're going to see more and more dry years."

EBMUD will begin informing customers on May 1 about drought conditions and ways to reduce water use through available platforms. The district will also educate and inform about preparing for drought and implementing conservation measure for more efficient use indoors and outdoors.

"This year has been the second driest year on record in our Mokelumne River watershed and the driest year on record in the East Bay," said Board President Doug Linney in a release issued Tuesday. "Fortunately, we started last year well, and our customers continued saving water in our drought-prone region. However, we must take initial actions now to ensure we don't face harder choices next year."

Since the last drought, East Bay residents and businesses have continued conserving water, using 13% less water in 2020 compared to water use in 2013, at the beginning of the last drought.

"Many customers are already conserving, and we ask them to keep it up. We know there's room for more conservation from many others. It can be accomplished with simple changes – and EBMUD is here to help," said Linney.

EBMUD relies on snowmelt and runoff from the Sierra Nevada for most of its supply. As of April 26, the amount of snow and rain in the Mokelumne River watershed, 90 miles from the East Bay, is 54 percent of average and EBMUD reservoirs are 69 percent full.

The amount of expected runoff from this year's rain and snow is approximately 260,000 acre-feet, well below the average of 745,000 acre-feet. While in
non-drought years, EBMUD's average end-of-September storage is about 600,000 acre-feet, EBMUD is projecting total system storage to be less than 500,000 acre-feet this year.

Wilson Walker contributed to this story.

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