As the prospect of a return to severe drought conditions in Northern California increases this spring, two Bay Area water agencies are taking action ranging from asking their customers to reduce consumption to possibly imposing higher rates for excessive use.

This past week, Contra Costa Water District officials called on the county’s residents to begin reducing their water use by 15 percent in light of the state’s ongoing drought.

The water district Board of Directors adopted an updated drought management program at its April 20 meeting, calling for a 15 percent reduction in water use compared to the countywide water usage in 2020.

According to the water district, the county expects to receive a limited amount of water from the federal Central Valley Project, which transports water from northern California to the San Joaquin Valley.

Local water supplies will be supplemented with water from the Los Vaqueros Reservoir near Brentwood, which is currently at 58 percent of its total capacity.

“We know that further reductions can be a challenge, but our customers are conscientious water users who step up for their community,” Board President Lisa Borba said in a statement. “Setting our baseline year as 2020 protects those customers who voluntarily reduced their water use in 2021.”

The district also plans to hold a public hearing in June to consider a potential 15 percent water use surcharge, which would amount to roughly $0.28 per day for average customers that use 260 gallons of water per day.

The district’s website offers information on water saving resources and rebates for reduced water use.

EBMUD eyes surcharges and fines

Meanwhile, the East Bay Municipal Utility District will meet this week to consider its next moves.

On Tuesday, April 26, EBMUD board members will decide whether to impose a surcharge on all customers to pay for more water and other drought-related costs. Board members will also consider reinstating an ordinance that penalizes people for excessive water use.

The potential actions follow a winter of low precipitation and a bleak state snow survey. The district’s reservoirs will likely fail to refill as the snow melts in the Sierra Nevada this spring, EBMUD officials said.

Reservoirs are currently 71 percent full and EBMUD officials are concerned about next year, too.

A decision Tuesday would elevate the drought emergency to Stage 2 of the utility’s Water Shortage Contingency Plan. Last April, EMBUD officials asked customers to cut water use by 10 percent and enacted a plan to draw upon additional supplies of water.

Tuesday’s meeting starts at 1:15 p.m. and can be watched online via Zoom.

Customers, residents and visitors can also attend the meeting in person at 375 11th St. in Oakland. Attendees will be required to complete a COVID-19 symptoms checklist and wear a facial covering.

On Wednesday, EBMUD will hold a panel discussion at 6 p.m. to discuss the drought action plan. People who want to attend can register online.

Keith Burbank is currently a fulltime reporter covering Alameda County and Oakland news for Bay City News. He has also worked on the Data Points project for Local News Matters, finding trends and stories about the region through data. In 2019, he was a California Fellow at the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism, producing a series about homeless deaths in Santa Clara County. He worked as a swing shift editor for the newswire for several years as well. Outside of journalism, Keith enjoys computer programming, math, economics and music.