Oakland, Berkeley residents to see water usage capped amid drought fears

The East Bay Municipal Utility District Board of Directors voted Tuesday to cap water usage for households in much of Contra Costa and Alameda counties, including Oakland and Berkeley — marking a significant step to address the state’s dire drought situation.

The move comes as the state faces its third dry year with shrinking reservoirs and a snowpack that is far smaller than normal, despite the recent rains. The water agency’s staff said the region is expected to have one of the dries water periods on record.

In another sign of the difficulty facing California water suppliers, a huge Southern California water district voted Tuesday to limit outdoor watering to a single day per week for 6 million people in Los Angeles and nearby counties — something the district has never done before, according to the Los Angeles Times.

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

The new rules capping water usage go into effect immediately, and the board will make a decision in May on the amount of fines for customers who exceed the limits.

Only a few other water districts locally have instituted caps during the current drought. These include San Jose Water Co. and the Marin Municipal Water District — though the Marin district ended the limits following December’s torrential rains.

People walk near and play in the receding water as the sun sets at the Camanche Reservoir in Ione (Amador County) in 2015. The reservoir is part of the East Bay Municipal Utility District.

Leah Millis/The Chronicle 2015

The East Bay water agency vote also mandates a district-wide goal of reducing water usage by 10%.

In addition to the caps, customers will be barred from filling decorative fountains or ponds that don’t have water circulation. Residential and commercial customers are not allowed to wash down sidewalks and driveways with a hose.

People will also be required to use a hose with a shut-off nozzle to wash their vehicles. Restaurants and bars can provide water only upon request, and hotel patrons must say that they want towels and linens washed daily. Outdoor watering is limited to three times per week.

Asked about the East Bay agency’s slate of new restrictions, Heather Cooley, director of research at Oakland’s water-focused Pacific Institute, said that they were “commonsense measures that should be in place all the time,” and the district could do even more to reduce water usage.

About half the water residents use in urban areas is for irrigating landscapes, she said, and using plants like sage, rosemary and poppies can reduce water usage by up to 80%.

“This drought is an opportunity to really advance these practices to not only help us save the water that we have and respond to the current drought, but also prepare us for the next drought,” Cooley said.

Six board members at EBMUD voted in favor of the measures. Board Chair Doug Linney was the lone vote against it, saying that the board should have committed to a higher water reduction goal than what it ultimately voted on — at 15%.

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

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

Gary Waters II, a local resident, told the board he had been reducing his water usage due to the drought conditions, but didn’t know how to reduce by 10% or 15%. Board members clarified that individuals wouldn’t have to reduce their usage by that amount, because it’s a goal for the whole district.

Another public commenter, identified on the webcast as Richard, supported the measures. He said he’s removed parts of his lawn and vegetation and fruit trees so that he would use less water.

“We’ve been going through these droughts for years now,” he said, urging for more action against those who go above the mandated thresholds.

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