Everyone's help needed in drought

  • by Marguerite Young
  • Wednesday April 29, 2015
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Like any good lesbian (earth mother type) I've been doing my part for the last few years of this drought to save water. I take really short showers, flush only when necessary, keep buckets on hand to catch extra water, wear my clothes an extra time before washing, and have a yard that doesn't need a drop of water. With all of that our household of 3.5, including 1.5 teenagers, uses 59 gallons of water a day �" less than 20 gallons per person. Do you know your family's water number?

Not satisfied to rest on my personal contribution, last year, I decided to run for a position on the board of the East Bay Municipal Utility District, or EBMUD, which serves 1.3 million customers in much of Alameda and Contra Costa counties. I'd spent much of my career working as staff and on the board of environmental non-governmental organizations focused on water issues, so it seemed like a great fit and the right time to step up. At the time, I felt that in the third year of a drought, EBMUD could do more, and I pledged if elected I would support stronger measures to address the drought and climate change. Now, in the fourth year of an unprecedented drought, I'm finishing my fourth month as an elected board member charged with making decisions on how best to deal with a Stage Four drought, and pushing for policies and programs to help us serve our customers in what could be more critically dry years ahead.

So what does all this mean to those of you that live in the EBMUD service area?

District-wide we will be cutting consumption back 20 percent compared to use in 2013. We are asking all of our customers to "strive for 35" gallons per person per day of indoor use and to adhere to mandatory outdoor water restrictions, including watering no more than two days per week. Since many of our customers are already at or below these levels, we'll need others to cut back more than 20 percent. For those customers, our water smart center provides the tips and tools needed. Consider a laundry to landscape gray water system, removing turf, or purchasing a high efficiency washer �" we have rebates for all of these.

Money talks, and beginning July 1, there will be drought use surcharge of 25 percent to cover the actual costs of drought supplies and conservation outreach efforts, which sends a strong price signal. We are also enacting penalties on water wasters, those who use more than four times the average use per month, and instituting a water theft ordinance. You can also help us by reporting water waste when you see it.

On July 1 we will be adjusting our rates to reflect the results of a comprehensive cost of service study. The impact will be to steepen our rate "tiers" so that those who use more water pay more for using more. Along with this is an overall increase to pay for long-term maintenance and improvements to our aging infrastructure. Between these two changes, the typical customer will see their bill go up $11 per month. In the next two years revenue from these rate increases will replace 30 miles of distribution pipes and several large waste water pipes, upgrade six water treatment plants, make dams and reservoir towers safer, and improve odors at our wastewater treatment plant.


What else you can do about the drought

You might stop eating California almonds �" I'm sure you have seen the campaigns on Facebook. It's true an almond requires about a gallon of water and may well end up in China. They are also grown on trees that must be watered. A head of broccoli takes five gallons to produce; both pale in comparison to the 1,850 gallons it takes to produce a pound of beef. All told agriculture uses 32,000,000 acre feet of water a year, much of it from groundwater basins that are being drained and will take decades to replenish. Your own water footprint is much larger than the amount of water you use at home. So eat a little lower on the food chain, it will save water.

What about fracking? Opponents of fracking blame the oil and gas industry for making the drought worse. I get shivers every time I think about the pollution of our ground water supplies that fracking causes, but the amount of water it uses here in California is only 214 acre feet a year �" literally a drop in the bucket. You can campaign to increase scrutiny on this industry so it can't pollute our drinking water by supporting groups like Clean Water Action.

Become an advocate for sensible water policy with your neighbors, co-workers, and your elected officials. For decades, California has been struggling with the conflict of how we should divide our limited water supply between cities, farms and the natural environment. About 80 percent of the water used in California goes to agriculture, a vital part of our and our nation's economy, but one built on a myth that water would always be cheap and plentiful �" these policies need an overhaul if agriculture is to continue to thrive. Of the 20 percent used in urban areas, we're all going to have to get more efficient to accommodate future population growth.

I look forward to the next four years of service as a board member of EBMUD. I'm excited about the opportunities we have to lead the way toward a climate smart, water smart future.


Marguerite Young is a newly elected director of the East Bay Municipal Utility District. She is a lesbian single mom from Oakland and longtime advocate for environmental protection and sensible water policy. She's a former director of Clean Water Action. The opinions expressed here are her own and do not represent EBMUD.