How does drinking water get to the East Bay?

ByGloria Rodriguez KGO logo
Wednesday, April 26, 2023
How does drinking water get to the East Bay?
A look at how drinking water gets to the East Bay from Pardee Dam in the Sierra Nevada foothills, which was built in the 1920s.

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- In California, we've been dealing with drought conditions for the past couple of years. With all the recent storms, water has had to spill at Pardee Dam.

But this recent abundance of water doesn't mean our water issues are over.

"In California, you're never in the clear. You're never fully in the clear when it comes to drought or floods," said Dillon Cowan, the East Bay Municipal Utility District's Superintendent at Pardee Dam. "One of the challenges in California is the significant amount of variability we can see from year to year so ranging from extreme low water level conditions to flood conditions."

Pardee Dam, in the Sierra Nevada foothills, was built in the 1920s to supply water to the East Bay.

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ABC7 hiked to the top of the 345-foot dam.

It is a strenuous climb, but you get a sense of how the water gets from the dam to EBMUD's 1.4 million customers in the Bay Area who are more than 100 miles away.

Steve Rowan is the dam's assistant superintendent. He said California has cycles of drought and heavy rain.

"We had real heavy water years in 2017, another one in 2019, another one this year, but in 2015 we were in the worst drought we had been in since 1976 so it's just boom and bust," Rowan said.

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The recent drought in California has inspired some businesses and nonprofits to find ways to conserve water.

About 90% of EBMUD's drinking water comes from Pardee Reservoir, then goes to the dam. From there, it goes to the Orinda Water Treatment Plant through aqueducts to be treated. They're undergoing a massive project to upgrade the plant.

ABC7 got a look at the construction site for the expansion of the plant, which will be the size of a football field.

The $325 million dollar project is expected to be completed in 2027.

"We have 90 miles of pipelines that come from the Pardee Dam all the way to this water treatment plant," said Tim Karlstrand, EBMUD senior civil engineer. "It takes between two and four days for the water to get here. Once it's here it goes through a filtration process similar to a BRITA filter that you might have at home. And this new project is adding ultraviolet disinfection to further improve the water quality."

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The water in Orinda then travels through pipes to customers in the East Bay.

Despite the flowing water now, we know it won't always be this way.

"We'll be managing it as if there's going to be a drought next year because there might be a drought next year," Rowan said.

That's why water activists are reminding us to keep conserving water.

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