May Meeting Recap

by Hilary Crosby

Our May meeting featured Andy Katz, President of the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) Board of Directors. He was first elected in 2006 and ran unopposed in 2010. Besides having a deep involvement with fresh water and wastewater management, he is also a public health advocate.

He provided us with a historical overview of the evolution of municipal water utilities that took over from private water companies. In earlier times in our area, private companies that took the water from Lake Anza provided our fresh water. Eventually, this source couldn’t provide enough water to keep up with the demand from the growing neighborhoods. Municipal Utility Districts were formed to build, operate, and maintain the infrastructure needed to meet these growing demands.


Under President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, our federal government invested tremendously in infrastructure. One of the many results of that New Deal was the creation of the East Bay Municipal Water District—now known as East Bay Municipal Utility District or EBMUD.

Today, much of our infrastructure is failing, including some of EBMUD’s. Regular, proactive maintenance is needed. If it is not performed, there will be costly consequences. Recently, EBMUD had a main line break that had to be repaired quickly and required maintenance crews to work overtime. We need to plan maintenance—take mains off line on a schedule, during regular work hours, using materials and replacement pipe ordered through a planned system. Reacting to emergencies requires expensive overtime and emergency procurement, driving up costs and reducing the reliability of the system.

The water we drink in El Cerrito comes from the Pine Spring in Alpine County, which is part of Mokelumne Watershed that runs along the Amador/Calaveras County line. EBMUD has literally built bridges over that river which is the physical representation of the bridges built between the East Bay counties and the eastern counties of the state, where our water comes from.

In the American West, water is treated like real estate. EBMUD has primary water rights to the Mokelumne River. We store our water in the Pardee Reservoir that holds 325 million gallons. Did you know, on average, we use 160 million gallons of water a day in the East Bay? This is significantly less than the average 190+ million gallons per day we have used in the past.

The major portion of our water is used by businesses. For example, the Chevron refinery in Richmond uses nine million of the 160 million gallons of water a day that comes into West Contra Costa County. Countywide, 3-5% of EBMUD customers use 20% of the water. Most of the consumption is in Dublin and Pleasanton where there are large residential homes with big lawns and swimming pools. Conserving water is important because a best practice is to have enough water stored in case there’s a three-year drought. The new EBMUD conservation plan calls for doubling conservation. This would include homeowner incentives to replace appliances, to convert lawns to drought resistant and to use recycled water.

In the department of good news/bad news, water exports from the Delta have created sites that are useless for agriculture but can become collection sites for solar energy. What about the all the water news surrounding the Delta? Mr. Katz told us he hasn’t taken a stance on the Delta issue, mainly because the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) that contains the information necessary to make a decision is 20,000 pages long and he hasn’t had a chance to read it all yet!

There was a question about who will “own” the aqueduct infrastructure that crosses the Delta. Given some of the proposals out there, EBMUD could end up as the only stakeholder left in the Delta with responsibility for the entire infrastructure.

Other negative impacts of the tunnel include:

  • If the state water project is implemented, EBMUD could be left with sole responsiblity for the Delta’s health. Essentially, all the Sacramento River water would be expended and many fish species could be in danger
  • The tunnel/s under the Delta could cost over a billion dollars

Mr. Katz also informed us about construction work in El Cerrito to be completed over the next several years. Water-conveying pipes, 48 inches in diameter, will be replaced. He agreed that the construction could be disruptive and outlined steps to mitigate it. There won’t be any water flow disruption, but there will be closures of some residential streets during some phases. He believes the worst impact will be on neighborhood residential parking. There are public hearings on this project coming up, and members are urged to attend:

  • Wednesday, June 12th at the First Presbyterian Church in Berkeley at 2407 Dana
  • Wednesday, June 19th at the Maple Hall, 13831 San Pablo Ave #4 at Alvarado Square inside the San Pablo City Hall Complex.
  • Wednesday, June 26th at El Cerrito High School, 540 Ashbury Avenue, El Cerrito

All meetings start at 1 pm.