Our state is in the midst of a relentless drought. But after a winter of dismal precipitation, the water supply prospects of the 1.3 million East Bay Municipal Utility District customers are in far better shape than during the last drought.
That's thanks to the Freeport Regional Water Facility, the crucial investment our generation of ratepayers has made in water supply reliability.
For the first time in EBMUD's history, severe drought may not lead to severe rationing.
EBMUD has been aggressively pursuing supplemental water supplies for decades. It was a proud moment in 2001 when EBMUD reached a historic accord that put aside years of legal and political battles and launched the cooperative regional project that today serves the Sacramento region and can deliver water in dry years to the East Bay.
Those of us who lived with mandatory, severe rationing in past droughts remember well the water-use restrictions, the intense public discussion about water needs and the behavioral changes that were asked of residents.
Residential practices have changed and large industrial customers have invested heavily in water recycling and conservation upgrades to their facilities.
The East Bay's conservation ethic and progress to date makes the prospect of extreme drought cutbacks that much harder to handle now.
In February, the EBMUD board of directors asked all customers to voluntarily cut their use by 10 percent. Customers have once again stepped up: Water use this March was down 11 percent compared with last March. We know it's a challenge for many customers to cut use further.
While customers are doing their part, EBMUD staff has begun the final tests of the intake valves, pipes and pumps that can supplement our Mokelumne River drinking water with additional supplies from the Sacramento River.
Having access to the Sacramento River, if needed, could lessen the hardship of drought on local families, jobs and the economy. Being able to rely on not only conservation and recycling, but also on supplemental water supplies during a drought is an achievement 44 years in the making, and one East Bay residents can be proud of bringing to fruition.
On April 22, the EBMUD board will hear the staff's analysis of water supply and water demand for 2014-15 and discuss how to best meet our region's need for water.
For the first time, tapping the Sacramento River by using the Freeport facility is an option that enables us to look at hard but not harsh customer cutbacks.
Without the Freeport facility, in a severe prolonged drought East Bay, residential customers could have faced up to 65 percent mandatory rationing.
We know how much water is in our reservoirs, but we don't know when this drought will end. Though drought in California is inevitable, severe rationing and negative economic impacts need not be a consequence.
John A. Coleman was EBMUD's president when the historic Freeport accord was reached. He has been an EBMUD board member since 1990, and currently serves as president of the Association of California Water Agencies. Andy Katz is EBMUD's current board president and has been a board member since 2006. He is former chair of Sierra Club California and currently serves on the California Legislative Committee.