SAN FRANCISCO – About 1.3 million water customers east of San Francisco Bay must cut back on their water use under rules imposed amid the most severe water shortage in nearly 20 years.
The East Bay Municipal Utility District’s board of directors voted unanimously to declare a water shortage emergency in Alameda and Contra Costa counties.
A drought management program approved by the board aims to curtail water use by 15 percent compared to average annual demand in the district.
The plan forbids activities like washing a car while letting the hose run, washing sidewalks and patios instead of sweeping, running water fountains that don’t recycle water and watering lawns more than three times a week.
“Our goal is to impact people’s lives as little as possible and get the maximum amount of conservation that we can,” said Andrea Pook, spokeswoman for EBMUD. “So really, we’re going after water waste.”
Customers caught going against these prohibitions will be cited, though the cost of the fine is still uncertain, Pook said.
The package of measures to curb water use also include television, print and radio campaigns to educate the public.
A final decision on increasing water rates while the shortage lasts will be made during a public hearing July 8. New rates adopted then could go into effect in August and show up on customers’ bills by September.
The rate hike would include a ten percent increase for all customers, who would also be asked to consume 10 percent less than their average use for the last three years.
A $2 surcharge would be added to the bill for each unit of water used that exceeds each consumer’s goal.
Customers who already use little water – less than 100 gallons per house per day – would be exempted from the rate hike and the surcharge, Pook said.
Water officials blamed two years of dry weather for the emergency. The Sierra Nevada snowpack, a main source of California’s water supply, has fallen one-third below normal levels and is not replenishing drinking water supplies as usual.
Instead of seeing water levels rise in EBMUD’s Pardee and Camanche Reservoirs, as is typical when Sierra snows melt in the spring, officials said they’re seeing the levels decrease.