Clara MacLeod

Though only separated by an hour drive, my hometown of Berkeley and my college town of Davis are very different places. Berkeley is a busy semi-urban city with tall buildings and a lively street scene, while Davis is a peaceful rural city surrounded by agricultural fields and bike lanes. Regardless of these differences and the distance that separates the two cities, drinking water is always supplied to my home in Berkeley and in Davis. Though the one difference I have noted between the water in Berkeley and in Davis is the taste; Berkeley’s water tastes pure and fresh while Davis’ not so much. The main complaint about Davis’ water is the hardness, which is noticeable by the calcium and magnesium deposits that build up around faucets, showerheads, and sinks. I have grown accustomed to the taste of Davis water over the past two years, but it makes me wonder why there is such a difference in water quality between the two water supplies. There are many factors that play a role in the provision of water, from regulations to institutions to water sources to infrastructure. One important factor in estimating water quality in any city is the size of the population being served, and Berkeley and Davis have very different population sizes. That difference has played an important role in the evolution of the cities’ current water provision system ever since consumers received piped running water.

Berkeley History

In an urban area like the East Bay, comprising many cities to the East of San Francisco including Berkeley, the cities are densely populated and touch one another, which makes it convenient to share resources or collaborate. Since 1923, the East Bay Municipal Utility District, also referred to as EBMUD, has provided drinking water and sewage treatment to the majority of the East Bay. The service area extends eastward from San Francisco and includes fifteen cities and fifteen unincorporated communities in Alameda and Contra Costa County. EBMUD’s expansive trans-county service area, however, is a relatively new occurrence. In the late 1800s, cities managed their own water supply, mostly through private water companies. The City of Berkeley, for example, received water from Henry Berryman’s private Berkeley Waterworks Company. The Contra Costa Water Company, founded in 1866, was the first company to provide piped water into the City of Oakland. A few years later, the Oakland Water Company formed to compete with the Contra Costa Water Company, an incident known as the “Water Wars”. To settle the “Water Wars,” the City of Oakland created a municipal utility in 1989 and the two water companies merged to become known as the Contra Costa Water Company.

Shortly after, in 1907, the Contra Costa Water Company and Berkeley Waterworks Company merged into the newly formed private People’s Water Company of Oakland. The People’s Water Company was the largest water utility in the East Bay, supplying eight cities—Oakland, Berkeley, Piedmont, Alameda, Emeryville, San Leandro, Richmond, and Albany. Around this time, the population in the East Bay increased dramatically due to an inflow of San Francisco Earthquake refugees. Simultaneously, water supplies in the East Bay began to decrease dramatically due to multiple droughts and a lack of water storage space. To address this water shortage, the San Leandro and San Pablo Reservoirs were built in the East Bay by the water companies but were ultimately unable to withstand the drought and increasing demand. In 1914, less than a decade after its formation, the People’s Water Company went bankrupt.

During this period, the population of the East Bay had outgrown the available water supply, and any single private company did not have the capacity to finance the infrastructure needed to divert water from other parts of California. In 1916, several cities in the East Bay purchased the private People’s Water Company and formed the public East Bay Water Company. As a result, this formed a large public water district with expanded resources and capacity.

It was not until the end of World War I in 1918 that the State of California truly began to address population growth and how to provide municipal services to a rapidly growing population. In 1921, the California State legislature passed the Municipal Utility District (MUD) Act, which allowed a municipal utility district to provide services throughout counties and unincorporated areas. Former Oakland mayor and California Governor George Pardee proposed a water district for Alameda and Contra Costa County in the East Bay, known as the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD). Upon state approval in 1921, the newly proposed district was formed in 1923. In 1928, EBMUD purchased the East Bay Water Company, forming the framework for the large multi-city water utility for the East Bay currently in place today.

From the late 1800s to when EBMUD was formed, many of the local water companies built dams around the East Bay for water storage. In time, this infrastructure was acquired by EBMUD but more water supplies were needed. In 1923, the EBMUD Board of Directors acquired water rights from the Mokelumne River in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and in 1929 water from the Mokelumne River and Pardee Reservoir reached East Bay households. Before reaching household, water from the Mokelumne River is distributed to the several East Bay reservoirs, transported to treatment plants and delivered to local reservoirs and tanks. EBMUD customers still receive the majority of their water supply from the Mokelumne River but in times of drought, the Mokelumne River is insufficient to meet the demand of EBMUD customers and the utility must look to other sources—a complex issue as EBMUD does not have a local water source.

Berkeley Schematic

Davis History

In 1917, around the same time the East Bay formed its first large public water utility, Davis was declared a city. Prior to its incorporation, Davis was known as Davisville. The small town of 400 citizens by 1870 had developed as an agricultural center and railroad junction. Davisville’s economic activity was largely related to agriculture, and water was mainly used in the form of irrigation. In 1905, Davisville was chosen as the University of California, Berkeley’s University State Farm. Shortly after the site selection, Davisville was incorporated and known as the City of Davis. The State Farm allowed Davis to develop from a purely agricultural and rail center to a college center with a growing population.

Unlike Berkeley, which is surrounded by several cities, Davis is much more rural. Prior to 1917, when Davis was an unincorporated town, water was supplied by the Davis Water Company. The private Davis Water Company, formed in, took over the private Schmeiser Manufacturing Company. The Company, with only 153 consumers, supplied water for irrigation and domestic purposes. Following the city’s incorporation in 1917, the City of Davis developed a local governance structure, which featured the establishment of a City Council and the installation of a water and sewage system.

The City’s water system was largely developed in the 1950s when the population size was still small and groundwater sources were enough to supply community demands. Hence, the City of Davis did not develop a water management plan until 1989 and only began metering all of its’ customers in 1997. The City still currently relies solely on groundwater, which comes from the Sacramento Valley groundwater basin, to meet its potable water needs. The City first collects groundwater from 21 wells, which pump directly into the distribution system. This water is stored in water towers and finally distributed through pipelines. As opposed to Berkeley’s water provision, Davis’ water supply is purely local and the City lacks a central distribution system.

Davis Schematic

The Future of the Drought

In January 2014, California Governor Jerry Brown declared the California drought a State of Emergency. Once again, both water suppliers, EBMUD and the City of Davis, are faced with water shortages. Since the Mokelumne Aqueduct and Pardee Reservoir are the primary sources of water supply for the EBMUD service area, EBMUD is seeking to collaborate with other local agencies to expand its water supply during periods of drought. EBMUD has collaborated with the Contra Costa Water District and San Francisco Public Utilities Commission for water supplementation and is considering groundwater storage in San Leandro and an expensive desalination project in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Like EBMUD, the City of Davis is also seeking ways to expand its water supply. As the quantity and quality of groundwater begins to decline, the City of Davis is forced to drill deeper wells to reach deeper aquifers. Considering this, the City wants to diversify its water supply and is in the process of expanding to surface water sources. Similar to what the East Bay did during the 1920 drought years, the City of Davis has partnered with the City of Woodland to establish the Woodland-Davis Clean Water Agency (WDCWA) to divert water from the Sacramento River. Permitted under California law, the WDCWA is a Joint Powers Authority, which means that the Agency operates independently with its own Board of Directors. Construction of the Regional Water Treatment Facility began in April 2014 and is expected to be complete by the end of 2016. As exemplified by EBMUD and now Davis, multi-county and multi-city water projects are a way of promoting regional cooperation and increasing water reliability. The Cities of Berkeley and Davis have well-established systems for water provision but the drought forces EBMUD and Davis to seek new alternatives to sources of water. Whether the water comes from rivers or from the ground, EBMUD and the City of Davis are creatively working to secure ways to deliver water to its citizens from source to tap.

By Kai Lord-Farmer

Given California’s large size, growing population and significant agricultural economy, water management is a complex issue, particularly because 80% of water demand is in the southern two-thirds of the state, and 75% of the supply lies above Sacramento. Currently, water use in the state breaks down to 39% for agricultural uses, 51% for environmental uses and 10% for urban areas, although these percentages vary considerably between regions and between seasons. To manage the water location/distribution imbalance and competing demands for water resources, California has created one of the largest and most complex water distribution systems in the world.

Considering the complexities of water distribution in California, the legislative policy accompanying this system can seem equally complex. One approach for grasping California’s water management framework is to consider a specific water related issue facing the state and determine how management policies can help inform and shape particular outcomes. Currently, California is in its fourth year of a drought, and, as NASA scientists have warned, has one year of water left in state reservoirs. In response, State Governor Jerry Brown, and the State Legislature are making concerted efforts to regulate water use and promote conservation. California’s “Sustainable Groundwater Management Act of 2014”, which went into effect on January 1st, 2015, is the states first effort to begin regulating groundwater. The legislation aims to manage groundwater extraction by requiring all local and regional agencies that have water supply, water management, or land use responsibilities (for example Los Angeles Department of Water and Power or the Kern County Water Agency) to establish Groundwater Sustainability Agencies and develop plans to implement sustainable groundwater management practices by 2020. As specified in the new bill, these sustainable groundwater management plans must include monitoring and management of groundwater levels within the basin, mitigation measures for overdraft of basins, new well registration policies, groundwater recharge programs and established sustainable groundwater yields from groundwater basins.

In addition, on April 1st, 2015, Gov. Brown signed an Executive Order mandating the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) to enforce a 25% reduction in potable urban water usage by water suppliers to California’s cities and towns. To understand the effects of these recent legislative actions and how they will be enacted throughout the state, it is necessary to review the various agencies and legislation that support California’s comprehensive water policy.

Overview of California Water Policy

The responsibilities of managing water distribution and enforcing water quality standards in California are divided between several statewide and regional agencies, each tasked with specific duties and responsibilities. Through guidance from the Department of Water Resources’ “California Water Plan”, which serves as an advisory tool to guide legislative action and prioritize infrastructure investments, these state agencies work to manage water distribution, monitor water quality and regulate allowable water usage throughout California. The components within the “California Water Plan” include the overall strategic plan for California’s various water uses, annual regional reports on water management throughout the state, future scenario planning for California water resources, implementation of resource management strategies, the creation of regional water balance and portfolio reports and the incorporation of the “California Water Plan” into other relevant California state plans. As the principal strategic document for California’s water policy, the “California Water Plan” guides the various state and federal policies enacted to reduce overall flood risk, reduce water demand, increase water supply, enhance environmental and resource stewardship while improving overall water quality in California. Although there are a number of agencies involved in water resource management in the state, there remain two key agencies that play a predominant role in water resource management in California. These are the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) and the California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB).

The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) is tasked with building, maintaining and operating the State Water Project, the state’s largest water infrastructure and power generation system, which provides drinking water to 23 million residents and generates 6500 GW/h of electricity annually. The DWR is subject to use permitting by the SWRCB, which regulates the amount of water the DWR can provide to communities for all domestic and commercial uses. As a state agency, the DWR answers directly to the Governor’s office and the State Legislature and collaborates with the SWCRB to manage regional water supply, environmental mitigation and electricity generation for the state.

The California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB), as one of the six branches of the California Environmental Protection Agency (Cal/EPA), is responsible for the broad task of preserving and enhancing the quality of all water resources in California, overseeing the allocation and distribution of water resources throughout the state for various uses including agriculture, hydroelectric power, municipal water supplies and recreational activity. The SWRCB also coordinates the state’s nine Regional Water Quality Control Boards, each tasked with creating regional water plans to guide the board’s water quality monitoring, water rights and allocation procedures, waste water discharge permitting and financial assistance for water related infrastructure.

Under title 22 of California Administrative code and the California Safe Drinking Water Act, the SWCRB is in charge of oversight of the quality of public drinking water supplies throughout the state. This is done through the promulgation, implementation and enforcement of drinking water quality standards in compliance with the California Water Code, the subset of statutory laws in the California legal code dealing specifically with water legislation enacted by the California State Legislature.

Alongside these agencies, as a subdivision of Cal/EPA, the Office of Environmental Health Hazards Assessment (OEHHA) performs various risk assessments of chemical contaminants for the state, evaluating the actual and potential health risks for contamination in drinking water supplies. OEHHA is also responsible for establishing health based permissible levels of contaminants in drinking water. In conjunction, the Department of Toxic Substance Controls and Pesticide Regulation of Cal/EPA both monitor and regulate the use of pesticides and other toxic chemicals in agriculture and industrial uses, mitigating their effects on drinking water supplies throughout the state.

California’s New Water Policy Efforts

The DWR is the lead agency of the “Sustainable Groundwater Management Act”. As mandated by the new law, all local water agencies will establish a Sustainable Groundwater Agency (GSA) by June 30th, 2017 and, subsequently, establish Groundwater Sustainability Plans (GSP) by January 31st, 2022. Under the new law, the DWR will designate priority levels for all groundwater basins in the state (high, medium, low and very low), creating new criteria for evaluating the various Groundwater Sustainability Plans and Groundwater Sustainability Agency agreements. Finally, the DWR is responsible for publishing the groundwater sustainability “best management practices” document, which will help guide local GSA’s in their groundwater management efforts. Although the “best management practices” document is still being drafted, it will included monitoring and management of groundwater levels within the basin, mitigation measures for overdraft of basins, new well registration policies, groundwater recharge programs and established sustainable groundwater yields from groundwater basins. In an effort to keep regional groundwater management within local agencies control, the SWRCB has only a limited role in this new legislation, stepping in only when local agencies fail to establish a GSA or the DWR determines that a local agencies GSA or GSP does not meet established requirements. In these cases, the SWCRB will work to create an interim plan for the local agency until an adequate GSA or GSP is established. The legislation was drafted to provide generous time for GSA’s to be established throughout the state, with all Groundwater Sustainability Plans to be adopted by January 31st 2022.

In concert with this new legislation, Gov. Brown’s executive order on April 1, 2015 enacted various mandates to increase water conservation efforts, bolster enforcement to decrease wasteful water use and invest in technologies to increase California’s drought resilience. In this Executive Order, SWRCB is the lead agency, implementing mandatory water use reductions for all local water agencies, amounting to a savings of approximately 1.5 million acre-feet of water over the next nine months. Accompanying this, the California Energy Commission and the DWR will incentivize domestic water conservation through a consumer rebate program focused on water efficient appliances, mandatory water-efficient drip irrigation systems in new developments and assisted installment of drought tolerant landscaping. The executive order also takes steps to streamline the state government’s drought response efforts, prioritizing the decision-making process on all water infrastructure projects as well as simplifying the review and approval process for emergency drinking water projects within the state.

Taking into account these new measures as well as the states preexisting regulatory framework, it is evident California is preparing for the short and long-term effects of the current drought and remains a leader in the practice of state water resource management.


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