As California's historic drought continues, the East Bay Municipal Utility District is tapping the Sacramento River to help its 1.3 million customers in Alameda and Contra Costa counties weather the dry spring without water rationing, district officials have announced.
For the first time, more than 5 billion gallons of drinking water will be sent via aqueduct from the Sacramento River to East Bay reservoirs to help meet EBMUD customer demand through June, district officials said at a Wednesday morning news conference next to the San Pablo Reservoir in Orinda.
The EBMUD board of directors voted last week to approve the unprecedented $8 million purchase and delivery of Sacramento River water into the San Pablo Reservoir and the Upper San Leandro Reservoir in Oakland, according to the district.
District officials say the delivery will add about a month's worth of water to EBMUD's supply.
None of the newly purchased water will reach EBMUD customers in Danville and San Ramon, but the move does have a trickle-down effect throughout the agency's entire service area, EBMUD spokeswoman Abby Figueroa said.
"Because of how the East Bay is plumbed, the Sacramento River water won't actually flow out of the taps of (users) in Danville/San Ramon, but having it available affects all of the EBMUD service area because it means we can continue asking for only a 10% voluntary cutback and not have to resort to more drastic rationing at this time," she added.
The purchase, made through a federal contract, comes after months of record-low rain and snow runoff levels prompted the district and others statewide to ask customers to cut their water usage.
According to a statement from EBMUD, customers have complied with the district's call in February to voluntarily reduce water usage by 10%.
The transfer of water from the Delta, coupled with a renewed call for customers to maintain the 10% cut in water usage, should get the district through the summer, officials said.
"The water we are purchasing reduces the immediate need for harsher cutbacks or mandatory rationing and it protects our supply from becoming unacceptably low later this year," EBMUD general manager Alexander Coate said.
"We are focused now on helping customers manage their use this summer as temperatures and water demand increases, and preparing for the possibility that this drought continues into 2015," Coate said.
If this winter's precipitation levels are as dismal as last winter's, the district will have the option of enacting mandatory rationing, increasing voluntary customer cutbacks or purchasing more water from the Delta.
District officials say acquiring the Delta water supply was made possible partly by EBMUD ratepayers' nearly half-billion-dollar investment in the Freeport Water Facility, which includes a water intake on the Delta, 36 miles of pipelines and two water-pumping plants.
EBMUD officials said the district is paying for the $8 million supply with proceeds from the sale of a Castro Valley property and budget savings.