EBMUD District 2 Director John Coleman said that water conservation by East Bay residents coupled with a decent snowpack in the Sierra led the EBMUD directors to vote last week in favor of easing back on water restrictions and moving them from a mandatory to a voluntary status. The change will take effect July 1, the start of the new fiscal year for the utility authority.
Coleman said they have seen residents from throughout the area do a phenomenal job of cutting back on their water usage.
"Our customers did a great job. We asked for single family homeowners to cut back 19 percent, and we achieved a goal of 13 percent overall," he stated.
Two years ago, EBMUD was selling 200 million gallons of water per day. This year that number has dropped down to 165 million gallons per day. While this has greatly helped in conserving water in the reservoirs, it has also created some issues for EBMUD.
"It actually created a financial situation for our district," he explained. "Our revenue is generated by how much water we sell and what it's priced at."
Coleman said in February the board members met to discuss their revenue issues and determined that there were two primary causes for projected shortfalls. First was the drop in usage, which represented a significant loss of incoming capital. Second was the loss of design work the district normally does.
"We have a lot of engineers who do design work for our service area. The building crisis has imploded this year and the number of people who've approached us for design work is way down," he said.
EBMUD Finance Director Gary Breaux said that revenue estimates show that water sales in the district are down by $12 million from last year and connection fees are down by $17 million.
In order to deal with the expected shortfalls, the board looked at a possible increase of as much as 21 percent. Coleman said rather than push that out onto area residents, the board instead instituted a hiring freeze, announced drastic cutbacks on travel and sponsorships and trimmed an additional $20 million off the budget.
Even with the belt tightening, customers can expect to see some fee increase coming their way in the new budget year.
"We had two choices this year," said Coleman. "We could go for an increase of 12 percent this year and 2 percent the following year; or we could have a 7.5 percent increase this year and a 7.5 percent increase next year. I felt 7.5 percent was more appropriate because we're in a fiscal crisis."
The board chose to go with the second option, which has been factored into its annual budget. Board members will vote on the budget at their June 9 meeting.
Coleman said if approved, the increase would be mitigated by the fact that the 10 percent drought surcharge will go away at the start of the new water year, July 1. With the surcharge removed, residents will see a slight decrease in their water bills in the coming year with an increase in the second year.
Residents are still being asked to be frugal with their water usage.
"We're in much better shape than we were last year, but we need to acknowledge that we're still in a drought to a degree," Colman said, adding, "We're still asking people to conserve but we are saying that if you started showering every other day, you can shower every day."