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Low water levels are evident as boats await customers at EBMUD's San Pablo Reservoir in Orinda, Calif. on Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014. Despite the low water levels, the reservoir opens to the public on Friday, Feb. 7. (Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group)

OAKLAND -- The East Bay Municipal Utility District is lining up a second emergency water supply in the drought.

The water board agreed Tuesday to exercise an option to buy up to 20,000 acre feet of water from the Placer County Water Agency.

The East Bay district would spend up to $8 million if it takes the full amount: $1.5 million to buy the water and another $6.5 million in pumping costs to pipe in the water from near Sacramento.

One acre-foot is enough water to cover one acre to a depth of one foot of water, or 326,000 gallons.

The East Bay district must pay a $100,000 nonrefundable deposit, but still has time to decide whether to buy the extra water to ease shortages for its 1.3 million customers in Alameda and Contra Costa counties.

On April 8, the water board is expected to forecast its annual water supply and decide whether to ration or stick with a plan to seek voluntary conservation. For now, customers are asked to cut back 10 percent.

"The pieces of the puzzle are coming together, and we expect in April to know how much water we will have in our reservoirs " said EBMUD spokeswoman Andrea Pook.

The district has until March 31 to buy the first 5,000 acre feet of water from Placer County. The Placer water agency is obliged to release large amounts of water from its reservoirs to help fish and wildlife in the lower American River providing that it can find someone to pick up and buy the water downstream.


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EBMUD also has begun preparations to pipe in up to 66,500 acre feet of Sacramento River water it has a contract to buy in drought years from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

In a related action, the water board agreed Tuesday to pay $900,000 over three years to WaterSmart Software Inc. to give regular reports to up to 100,000 customers on how their individual water use compares with imilar homes in their neighborhood.

A pilot test found that 10,000 EBMUD homes cut water consumption 5 percent when given the comparisons every two months.

Contact Denis Cuff at 925-943-8267 or dcuff@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/deniscuff