Alameda County Water District rescinds drought surcharges

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FREMONT, Calif. — Starting next month, Tri-City water customers no longer have to pay an additional fee because of drought conditions.

On Tuesday, the Alameda County Water District board of directors voted unanimously to lift the fee, which it initially imposed in March of last year to make up for the shortfall in revenue from customers conserving water. It is set to be lifted April 1.

“I think the surcharge has definitely served its purpose,” Board Member Judy Huang said. “It will also be difficult for us as a board to explain to our customers that they need to conserve and they’ll be penalized for using water when it’s raining cats and dogs and we’re talking about flooding.”

The district earned $11.6 million from the drought surcharge from March 2022 through the end of the past February, making up for a decline in the general fund balance resulting from lower water use. It charged customers about 79 cents per 748 gallons used when first implemented, though the board approved a 4% increase in the surcharge last month. Jonathan Wunderlich, the district’s director of finance and administration, said staff felt it was a good time to rescind the surcharge because of the district’s financial position and improving water supply conditions.

The drought emergency will continue to remain in effect, despite lifting the surcharge, since two of the district’s sources of water, the state and the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, also remain in a drought emergency. Laura Hidas, the district’s manager of water resources, said the district is watching to see what the state does given the recent precipitation, pointing out that the snowpack in the Sierras is well over 200% of its April 1 average and storage at Oroville Reservoir is 120% of average.

Climate scientists are predicting that California residents will see more “weather whiplash” in the coming decades, with periods of prolonged drought punctuated by brief periods of intense rain.

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