Berkeley hotels

Berkeley Hills homeowner fined for using too much water

The Berkeley Hills seen in March 2021. File photo: Pete Rosos

A Berkeley Hills homeowner with a job related to environmental sustainability has been fined for using too much water during California’s current severe drought.

The East Bay Municipal Utilities District voted in April to mandate a 10% reduction in water use starting in 2020 and introduce ‘excessive use’ penalties for households using more than 1,646 gallons of water. water a day – the strictest water conservation policy in the Bay Area.

The Berkeley landlord’s name was included in a list of hundreds of violators across the East Bay that was released by the district on Tuesday in response to a public records request from Berkeleyside.

Her six-bedroom, four-and-a-half-bathroom home not far from John Hinkel Park used an average of 2,815 gallons a day this summer, and she will be fined about $180.

The average EBMUD customer uses approximately 200 gallons of water per day, although usage tends to increase in the summer. The seven worst offenders on the list each used more than 5,000 gallons a day and include former Chevron vice president George Kirkland and former Safeway CEO Steven Burd.

Fines for excessive use have the effect of shaming heavy water users, although EBMUD spokeswoman Andrea Pook says this is not the policy’s intention; Naming offenders is a requirement of California public records laws.

The Berkeley owner told Berkeleyside she was incredibly frustrated to find herself on the list. She thinks the culprit might be a leak, and she waits for EBMUD to send an expert to her house to find her.

“I haven’t been able to put my finger on the leak, so it looks like I’m some kind of scofflaw, when in fact, I’m not,” she said. “I’m honestly a little desperate…I’m someone who cares deeply about my impact on the environment.”

Berkeleyside does not name the owner as she is not a public figure.

She said she had owned the house since 1996 and lived there with three members of her family. She said she doesn’t have a pool, pond or dishwasher. She uses her washing machine “wisely” – once a week – and takes showers, not baths. In 2017, she says, she even spent $20,000 to redo her irrigation system and revamp her garden with drought-tolerant plants: California poppies, prickly poppies, moss rose.

When she first received a courtesy letter from EBMUD regarding her water usage in July, she was taken by surprise and suspected her garden was the problem. She stopped watering her lawn to the point that it turned brown, but her water bill wouldn’t budge. And toilet tests revealed no quiet leaks.

If the cause of her high water bill is actually a hidden leak, she wouldn’t be the only one: “One in four customers in our service area has a leak of some kind,” Pook said. Other leading causes of excessive water use include inefficient irrigation systems and over-irrigation, that is, watering more than three times a week, according to the EBMUD.

Pook said customers looking to avoid ending up on the list should consider participating in the district’s My Water Report program, which lets you know how much water you’re using compared to similar homes in your area and can help identify potential leaks. She also recommended customers order a free WaterSmart Home Survey Kit from EBMUD, a brochure with instructions to help customers locate leaks.

Drought surcharges and outdoor water restrictions are still in place

An East Bay Municipal District water meter. Credit: Ximena Natera, Berkeleyside/CatchLight

EBMUD’s water conservation mandate is only part of the agency’s multi-pronged approach to drought management.

In July, EBMUD customers saw their water bills increase as the agency began imposing an 8% drought surcharge. The surtax money goes toward the $64.5 million cost to the drought management agency this year, including the purchase of water from outside sources.

Usually, 90% of the water in EBMUD comes from the Pardee Reservoir, which is filled by the Mokelumne River. But in April, after a second straight dry winter, EBMUD declared a Stage 2 drought emergency and decided to purchase $19 million in additional water supplies from the Sacramento River and deliver to the area. ‘East Bay via the Freeport Regional Water Facility, according to Pok.

As part of the drought emergency declaration, EBMUD’s 1.4 million customers in Alameda and Contra Costa counties have been ordered to comply with the following outdoor water restrictions:

  • Limit outdoor watering to three times a week, before 9 a.m. and after 6 p.m., with no runoff. No irrigation within 48 hours of a rain.
  • Do not wash sidewalks and driveways.
  • Do not irrigate the lawn on the medians of public streets.
  • Do not irrigate non-functional grass on non-residential sites.
  • Turn off decorative fountains without recirculation.
  • Use the hose shut-off nozzle when washing motor vehicles.

Restaurants are only required to provide drinking water upon request, and hotels must offer guests the option not to wash towels and linens daily.

EBMUD’s water conservation efforts have been effective, Pook said. In September and October, EBMUD customers reduced their water usage by 14% from 2020 levels, more than the district mandated 10%.

But until the drought emergency is over, water use restrictions will remain in place. EBMUD tanks are now 67% full, compared to 71% in April.

“They’ll get a warning, and then if they continue, they’ll get an excessive water usage penalty on their bill,” Pook said. “It’s a community effort. Some people are already doing a lot and there are others who have more leeway, so to speak, to take more action.