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Tri-Valley water wholesaler eliminates mandatory water cutbacks

Voluntary 10% cutback replaces mandatory reduction

The Tri-Valley's water wholesaler decided to remove mandatory water conservation rules in light of a rainy winter season.

The Zone 7 Water Agency board voted unanimously Wednesday night to eliminate the agency's mandatory 25% conservation rate, asking residents to adhere to a 10% voluntary conservation rate. The percent decreases are based upon residents' 2013 water usage.

State regulators decided in May to relax Gov. Jerry Brown's mandatory cutbacks to allow local water agencies to decide water conservation targets for their own communities. Since Zone 7 is the primary water seller to Pleasanton, Livermore, Dublin San Ramon Services District (DSRSD) and Cal Water's Livermore division, its conservation rules affect those communities.

Zone 7 will continue with its 10% water conservation surcharge until it sunsets at the end of December. The surcharge differs from a drought fee in that the surcharge is used to recoup revenue that was lost by aggressive water conservation during 2015, Zone 7 general manager Jill Duerig said.

Zone 7 budgeted for a 25% water conservation rate, but Tri-Valley customers conserved about 44%. While this was important to help get the area through the latest year of the four-year drought, it meant fewer water sales for Zone 7, and eliminating the surcharge now could threaten the agency's financial viability, assistant general manager of finance Osborn Solitei said.

"Maybe in the fall, we can revisit this," he said, noting that the board will have to vote on whether to extend the surcharge into 2017.

But agency board members emphasized that while they were relaxing mandatory conservation rules, that doesn't mean using water is now a free-for-all. Residents must still follow lawn watering regulations and other restrictions laid out by their local municipalities and water agencies.

"I want to make sure it gets out there that there are still restrictions," board member Angela Ramirez Holmes said.

Pleasanton recently removed its drought surcharge and reduced its conservation target from 25% to 10%. DSRSD general manager Dan McIntyre told the Zone 7 board Wednesday that the district will be considering reducing its conservation targets at an upcoming meeting.

State water officials have noted that while the El Nino storms brought an average amount of rain to California, the drought is not over, and water conservation is still important.

"Californians continue to demonstrate that they are serious about water conservation, which is fabulous," said State Water Board Chair Felicia Marcus in a recent release. "We will be watching closely to make sure that water agencies continue to prioritize the conservation habits their customers have adopted, and don't fall back into business as usual. In particular we expect them to continue to enforce bans on the worst types of wasteful water use, and to take a prudent approach with their water budgets."

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