Stuck in the EBMUD

Punya Sidhu, Staff Writer

On October 16th, East Bay Municipal Utility District released a list of the top water wasters who use their services. The list consisted of water users who used over 1000 gallons of water each day, although many were guilty of using much more than that. The list, available to the public, contains each homeowner’s name, town, and number of units of water used. One unit is equivalent to 748 gallons of water. The list is topped by a Danville homeowner, Chevron Vice Chairman George Kirkland, who uses over 1000 units. Many Danville and Alamo residents speculate about the ethical motivation to release the list.


The reason to publish the list, however, was not on ethical grounds, or to bring awareness about water conservation. According to an EBMUD representative, the list was published for legal reasons, but instead brought about unintended consequences.


“The California Public Records Act says that when a utility customer is in violation of one of our water use policies…their name, address, and consumption data can be released upon request… that’s what happened. We received multiple requests from a number of Bay Area media outlets, and the law says, if we’re asked, we have to release…that information,” Abby Figueroa, a Senior Public Information Representative for EBMUD said.


The reactions to the publication of the list varied greatly. Many were angry about the fact that their names were made public, and others were shocked about the fact that some people could use so much water.


“We’ve heard…embarrassment, outrage, disbelief. Both from people who can’t believe that they’re on the list, [and are] upset that it’s been made public, to people who can’t believe that there’s anyone using that much water,” said Figueroa.


Cheryl Costello, an AP Environmental Science teacher at Monte Vista, feels that the list was an important tool in bringing awareness to the ongoing drought.“I first saw it, and I had mixed feelings about doing that [releasing the list], for people to feel shamed,”Costello said. “In some ways, I think it’s probably good that the community is aware that so many people are going over the limit.”


Many of the list’s water users were Danville and Alamo residents. The high usage of water from wealthy suburban areas is often due to the large size of the properties. It makes sense that wealthier Bay Area residents have larger homes and properties and that more water is used to maintain them.


When presented with this list of excessive water users, many may picture a household full of rich people with no regard for the environment. Figueroa, however, explains how this is often a flawed perception. EBMUD had expected areas such as Danville and Alamo to have higher water use.


“It’s no surprise to us that there is more water use in those parts of our service area…that areas with larger lots, have larger landscapes, and in warmer climates, it makes sense that they’re going to use more water.” Figueroa said.


Although there is logical reason behind the high water use from Danville and Alamo, EBMUD had to take action to penalize excessive water use.


“What happened is that our board of directors decided that there was a limit, that we are in a severe drought, [and] we have to protect our drinking water supply. So that means that anything over 1000 gallons a day is excessive, and there needs to be a penalty for that,” Figueroa said.


Some believe that there is a problem with awareness in our community. They say education is key to water conservation.


“I think maybe sometimes people think that everyone else is conserving, so it’s ok if [they] water more, or maybe they’re not aware [of] how much water they’re using,” Costello said. “I think a lot of people don’t realize that we’re in a critical Stage Four drought, and I think some people don’t realize how much of a problem it is.”


Figueroa claims that the people who made the list have actually taken steps to conserve water.


“A lot of customers who have very high water use, who have excessive use, are conserving,” Figueroa said. “We know that they’ve cut back. The problem is that they’re still using more than the limit that the board set. What they can do is, continue conserving: look even harder at their outdoor use, have they done everything they can to upgrade their irrigation system, have they converted their lawns, are they sure they have no leaks in the house?”


According to Figueroa, if the drought goes on, we may have to cut back even more, even if we are not guilty of excessive water use.
“If the drought continues…and if we’re in a drought next summer…hard choices are going to be felt by everyone,” Figueroa said.