EBMUD taps Sacramento River as part of drought response

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EBMUD taps Sacramento River as part of drought response
Freeport intake photo courtesy of EBMUD

By Kathy Chouteau

East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD), which supplies water to 1.4 million East Bay residents, has announced that, as part of its drought response, it’s started drawing supplemental water from the Sacramento River to bolster its Mokelumne River water supplies for its customer base.

Through February 2022, the agency said it will pump approximately 11 billion gallons of water via the Freeport Regional Water Facility on the Sacramento River, largely via its contract with the US Bureau of Reclamation, with the supplemental supplies representing about 20 percent of its annual customer water needs. 

Purchasing and delivering this year’s supplemental water comes at a cost of about $15 million, which EBMUD said is funded by budgeted operations costs.

EBMUD Board President Doug Linney said that the agency has “planned and invested for decades to make our water supply resilient and now our plans are paying off.” He added that the agency’s roadmap for ensuring a reliable water supply has included conservation, recycled water and use of supplemental supplies.

According to EBMUD, its supplemental water supply will pass through its aqueducts to San Pablo and Moraga Creeks, ultimately flowing into the San Pablo and Upper San Leandro Reservoirs where it will be stored for treatment at the agency’s Sobrante and Upper San Leandro Water Treatment Plants. The agency said it completed a $46 million infrastructure upgrade to the aforementioned plants to enhance ozone systems to further improve water quality following the 2015 drought.

However, EBMUD said that some customers “may notice a change in the characteristics of their water because it may originate from a different watershed than their typical supply,” but underscored that its water is “treated to the highest standards to meet or exceed all state and federal requirements.”

The agency said it also invested approximately $500 million to build the Freeport Regional Water Facility; finished in 2011 and jointly owned with Sacramento County, it was utilized during the 2014-2016 drought for the first time. While 90 percent of the East Bay’s water supply comes from snow and runoff from the Mokelumne Watershed, EBMUD said that during a drought the facility is a critical asset in diversifying its water portfolio.

At this time, water supplies are somewhat higher than projected due to customer conservation; EBMUD said its total system storage on Oct. 1 was 76 percent of average and 57 percent of capacity.

In April 2021, EBMUD declared a Stage 1 drought and asked for voluntary cutbacks of 10 percent; since the July timeframe, customers have conserved almost 8 percent vs. the same time last year, per the agency.

“We appreciate every customer for doing their part during this drought and finding ways to reduce their water use,” said EBMUD General Manager Clifford Chan. He added that, while we can’t predict next year’s weather conditions, it’s important to be ready for what may come and urged customers to “do what you can today to save water. Every drop puts our community in better shape for tomorrow.”

EBMUD officials said they will continue pursuing additional water transfers for next year.