The San Ramon City Council discussed the local water supply, a plan to revitalize redwood trees and other city landscaping, fixing the historic Forest Home Farms Old Barn and recouping sidewalk repair costs Tuesday night during its first-ever meeting at the new City Hall.
The water supply and drought conditions for much of the city are significantly improved compared to this time last year, according to John Coleman, a board director for the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD), which provides water service to most of San Ramon.
"The situation from a year ago has changed dramatically -- for the better, for that matter," Coleman told the council.
As of April 24, the region's watershed was at 99% of average, with the Mokelumne River basin -- where 93% of the district's water comes from -- at 108% of average. Coleman stated that the East Bay's reservoirs are at 98%, and overall, the East Bay's water levels are 88% of average, which Coleman called "phenomenal."
There are currently 551,000 acre-feet in the EBMUD water reservoir system, and district officials estimate by Sept. 30 that there will be anywhere from 605,000 to 650,000 acre-feet due to snow and rain runoff, numbers high above the 500,000 acre-feet minimum that would constitute as a "critical situation," according to Coleman.
"Basically, we have a four-year supply of water in our reservoirs right now, and if you looked at it last year, at this time, we were below 350,000 acre feet -- so nearly double of what we had a year ago in September," Coleman said.
"We are very lucky in that we did get through it; people conserved a great deal of water, and as a result, their conservation and our water transfers that we brought in, allow us to be pushing the margins that we're in right now," he added.
According to EBMUD, its users have conserved an overall amount of 24% during this cycle of the drought, surpassing the EBMUD goal of 20% and the state goal of 16%. Statistics for water usage in single-family homes showed a 15% decrease in 2014 and a 31% decrease this past year, helping in the overall 24% EBMUD decrease.
"There are no more drought restrictions. However, we want people to use water wisely," Coleman said.
Looking ahead, he added, "It's going to be more and more difficult in future droughts for people to be able to cut back because the changes they're making -- the landscaping, the hardware inside their homes, the businesses that have changed. So each subsequent drought, it's going to be more and more difficult for people to be able to cut back by 20-25%."
Because EBMUD is planning ahead for future droughts, Coleman said district officials are aggressively seeking the option of water transfers, which already brought in about 50,000 acre-feet of water from other sources this past year.
Had EBMUD not participated in the water transfer, they may have been in a situation where they would have had to ban all outside watering due to uncertainty of what the next year would bring, he said.
Later in the meeting, city operations division manager Jeff Gault presented a report for a proposed contract with EcoFert, Inc., to revitalize the landscapes found in San Ramon city parks, particularly the redwood trees deteriorating during the drought in Village Green and Athan Downs parks.
Gault explained that while recycled water is a good thing because it is cheaper than potable water and it is not subject to drought restrictions, the reclaimed water contains high levels of salts and other minerals that can be potentially toxic to certain plants, trees and turf. Most notably, city staff members have noticed distress in the redwood trees, with 75 dead trees at Village Green park alone.
In search of a solution, city staff found EcoFert's service that produces fertigation equipment that supplies nutrients into the landscape through the irrigation system, essentially eliminating the need for planting fertilizers while allowing the city to continue to use recycled water.
Joe Nedney, of EcoFert, explained that fertigation is a combination of fertilization and irrigation where organic amendments are micro-dosed into the watering cycle and then absorbed through the soil and the plants, thus feeding the soil at the same time it is watered.
Because the nutrients are organic, the EcoFert system would be safe for both people and animals while providing the right materials that would be able to mitigate the effects of the sodium in the water while adding nutrients to the water, Nedney said. While the program would greatly assist the redwood trees, it would also heal the rest of the landscape, such as shrubbery and grass, he added.
"We want these parks to live through the good and the bad weather, and with this recycled water, with the salts that build up, this is not sustainable," Nedney said.
For the city of San Ramon, there would initially be a total of five points of connection: three at Central Park, one at Athan Downs, and one at Richard Fahey Village Green. A timeline for the project was not discussed during the meeting.
The council unanimously approved the proposed contract with EcoFert after listening to the program specifics Tuesday and determining that installing the EcoFert systems to accommodate the effects of the recycled water would ultimately be cheaper than the cost of dealing with the trees and stopping the use of the recycled water in the parks.
The contract is for one year with an option to renew it for four successive one-year terms, in an initial annual amount of $51,820 and a total cumulative five-year agreement amount not to exceed $230,000. EcoFert owns and maintains the fertigation equipment, which includes injectors, holding tanks that would be placed in the ground, and related hardware to connect to the irrigation system.
EcoFert will charge $3,485 per month for up to 60 months of monitoring and maintaining services, and a 5% contingency amount of $10,900. Sufficient funding is available in the approved public services budget for this year and the proposed budget for 2016-17, according to city staff.
Also approved by a unanimous vote Tuesday was a contract with HM Construction for the renovation of the historic Forest Home Farms Old Barn for an amount not to exceed $662,150.
"With this renovation, we will be able to safely take visitors inside the barn. We will have changing historical displays and interpretive features that will enable us to tell the story of this barn," recreation supervisor Mary Ann Simmons said.
Construction will include foundation work, reconstructing the barn's main structural skeleton, creating a new pest-resistant faux floor, waterproofing, accessibility compliance, new lighting fixtures and adding a fire alarm and security system.
The project will be funded by a combination of funding from the Historic Foundation, the city park development fund, and the city general fund for an overall cost $757,000. The Historic Foundation continues to raise funds for the project, according to foundation vice president Carol Rowley.
The council also received a staff report regarding the possibility of cost-sharing the maintenance of approximately 470 miles of sidewalk in the city for costs related to sidewalk and driveway repairs required because of damage caused by activities on adjacent properties.
The situations typically arise because of heavy vehicle traffic over commercial or industrial driveways, roots from trees not owned by the city but within the city right-of-way, or vehicles crossing sidewalks inappropriately or otherwise misused, according to engineering division manager Robin Bartlett.
The cost for maintaining the sidewalks have added up to nearly $100,000 per year, and 100% of the cost has been worn by the city, Bartlett said.
The council discussed the possibility of sharing the cost at 50% between the property owner and the city. Final consideration of the sidewalk repair program is set to return at a future council meeting.