News | March 11, 2011

Nearly $1 Billion Project To Help Protect East Bay Residents From Drought

By Kevin Westerling

Following a successful 10-day test run, the Freeport Regional Water Project is fully operational, ready to deliver a supplemental water supply to 1.4 million residents in California's East Bay region of the San Francisco Bay Area, according to an article in the Contra Costa Times. The $900 million project — a joint venture between the East Bay Municipal District (EBMUD) and the Sacramento County Water Agency — is designed to limit East Bay rationing to no more than 25% in dry years.

The additional security cost East Bay $460 million — more than half the total bill — despite receiving water from the facility in just three of every 10 years. The remaining water from the Freeport pumps will be delivered to Sacramento, for both regular use and drought protection, once canals are completed in November.

Though the cost of water comes at a hefty $800 per acre-foot price tag for EBMUD, it serves to ease a long-standing worry for the district, which has been trying for decades to diversify its supply. In 1968, a deal was struck to supplement East Bay's primary resource, the Mokelumne River, with water from the American River, but concerns over dewatering derailed the plan. After lengthy court proceedings, a deal was struck to move the intakes downstream from Sacramento, on the bank of the Sacramento River, moving the project forward.

With the opening of Freeport, EBMUD anticipates rationing of no more than 25% until 2020, even in the case of a severe drought, such as the one that occurred in 1976 and 1977. During that time, customers were required to slash their water use by more than half. More recently, in 2008 and 2009, the district asked residents to cut usage by 15% — a move that, according to EBMUD's Michael Tognolini, would not have been necessary had the Freeport plant been online.

The Oakland-based district is still in the planning stages for a longer-term solution that would protect East Bay's water supply through 2040, with considerations to perhaps desalinate or raise the dam on the Mokelumne River, in addition to conservation initiatives.

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