EBMUD cashing in on drought surcharges

January 28, 2009 7:32:15 PM PST
East Bay Municipal Utility District is cashing in on the drought, at least when it comes to collecting those surcharges levied against customers who use too much water. While most of the district's customers are doing their part to conserve, a few are refusing to.

It seems mandatory water rationing is optional for those who can afford it. That's after EBMUD announced they have collected $6 million in drought surcharges from customers who exceeded their monthly allotment of water. That's $3 million more than expected.

"This is the first time that EBMUD has used this approach. So our staff projected a lower amount than we ended up collecting," said board member Andy Katz.

The extra money comes from those who would rather pay than turn off the tap. For instance, in Alamo according to EBMUD, nearly half of all homeowners (46 percent) are paying surcharges rather than cutting back on water usage.

Overall, the residents of Alamo cut consumption by 13 percent. EBMUD's goal is 15 percent.

Rodeo actually increased its usage 2 percent. The main culprit being a billion-dollar expansion of the ConocoPhillips Refinery.

EBMUD's best-conserving city? Kensington, where residents have cut usage by 20 percent.

"I personally have installed high-efficiency toilets in my house and it immediately made our water use go way down. A lot of people are good about doing drip irrigation," said Esther hill of Kensington.

The push to conserve will become even more critical in the months to come. EBMUD's main reservoir, Pardee, is currently at 86 percent of capacity, but will draw down considerably without an extended period of rain.

"We would need 16 straight days of rain for this month and next month and the month after in order to come out of this drought, and that's not likely to happen," said Lesa McIntosh, with EBMUD's board of directors.

EBMUD is working to simplify its drought rate structure. The district may also look to increase those rates and cut allotments if the drought doesn't ease by the spring.