As a result, residents in the Diablo Water District (DWD), which includes all of Oakley, might be asked to voluntarily cut their water usage by only 10 percent in the coming year rather than take the more drastic mandatory measures that had been contemplated.
California’s water situation was looking gloomy in early February, when the water content of the Sierra snowpack was dipping to levels not seen since the 1976-77 drought, according to Mike Yeraka, DWD general manager, in a presentation to the Oakley City Council on March 24.
“That was the very bad drought we had,” he said. “It was just above that (level). That’s why all of the water managers were so scared. It was horrible; it was bleak.”
But that was before the rain gods smiled on the Golden State. Now the snowpack water content is around 90 percent of normal levels. The water level in Lake Shasta, which flows into the Delta and from there to our water taps, is close to 60 percent of capacity, which is far below the normal 80-percent level, but close to last year’s level.
“So we are still below average, but we are a lot better off than we were,” said Yeraka.
As a result, the Contra Costa Water District (CCWD), which supplies water to Oakley, Antioch, Pittsburg and other cities, is considering less drastic water conservation measures than previously contemplated.
The staff recommendation at a CCWD hearing Wednesday night (the results of which were not available at press time) is to request a voluntary 15-percent water reduction from CCWD customers. That’s much more lenient than the 25-percent mandatory conservation that would have been imposed if the late rains had not fallen.
“Of course, we are all praying for the voluntary allocation,” Yeraka told the council last week.
Were the 25-percent mandatory reduction imposed and if DWD residents did not cut back their water use, the district could have been hit with a $2.5 million penalty this summer – nearly matching the $2.7 million that the district currently spends on water for an entire year.
Even if DWD had that kind of money to spend or waste, failing to cut back by at least 25 percent could have led CCWD to ration Oakley’s water supply next year. “I don’t want to scare you; I’m just letting you know that’s what they were telling us under the 25-percent mandatory requirement,” Yeraka said.
But if CCWD adopts the 15-percent voluntary conservation plan as expected, local water users will be able to gargle and shower much easier this summer. That’s because DWD dug a well in Glen Park in 2006 that mostly has been held in reserve for just such a water shortage.
“I have not been using all of that water supply the past few years,” said Yeraka. “This is the very reason why. Because I wanted to provide a buffer of additional water supply for Oakley in case we do get into a drought. And if we do have to use 100 percent of that well, the water is there to help make up for that. So that’s my thinking as a water manager: to make sure we have some reserves for drought periods.”
As a result, DWD customers might be asked to cut back their water usage by only 10 percent in the coming year. In addition, it appears that DWD might not implement its plan for a tiered water rate that punishes heavier users.
The current water charge is $2.48 per hundred cubic feet (HCF) of water, which equates to 748 gallons. The rate would remain at $2.48/HCF for those using up to 15 HCF per month, which includes nearly a third of DWD customers. It would rise to $3.48 for those using 16-30 HCF per month and to $4.48 for those using more than 31 HCF.
But if the new rates aren’t imposed, water users won’t be off the hook to cut back.
“If folks don’t conserve, we’ll have less supply (provided by CCWD) for next year,” said Yeraka. “If we have another dry winter next year, they will look at our water usage for this year and we could be penalized in that regard if we don’t conserve.
“We are planning for mandatory conservation but hoping for voluntary. But we do know something is going to come where we will be asking our customers to do some level of conservation.”
Mayor Carol Rios said, “We all will be hoping for voluntary. But, you know, we are at a point in the world that it’s not a bad idea to learn to conserve a little.”