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EBMUD at 100 — Celebrating a Century

In 1921, the California Legislature passed the Municipal Utility District Act as a way of bringing organization to what was an unreliable patchwork of water suppliers. Two years later, on May 22, 1923, the East Bay Municipal Utilities District (EBMUD) was formed. This week, EBMUD has been celebrating 100 years of service to the East Bay, including a gift for the future: a time capsule to be opened on the district’s bicentennial.

Alameda Post - a group photo from the event for EBMUD
It was all smiles at EBMUD’s 100th birthday party. Photo Scott Piehler.

EBMUD kicked their celebration into high gear on Sunday, May 21, with a community bash at Lake Temescal in Oakland. On Monday, the scene shifted to the site of the original Oakland headquarters at 21st and Adeline streets, which now serves as EBMUD’s central maintenance facility. Public Affairs Director Kelly Zito started the ceremony, noting that from its humble beginnings, the utility now serves over 1.4 million customers.

After the centennial celebration flag was presented, General Manager Clifford Chan thanked EBMUD’s 2,000 employees, and noted that the utility has embarked upon the largest capital investment in its history, totaling in excess of $3 billion dollars. Results of that investment have already been seen here in Alameda, with the installation of the Inner Harbor Crossing pipeline. Chan also highlighted The Center for Smart Infrastructure, a collaborative project with UC Berkeley Engineering.

Alameda Post - five individual photos of speakers at the podium for EBMUD's 100th birthday celebration
EBMUD Speakers (L to R) Andy Katz, Clifford Chan, Dr. Kimberly Mayfield, John Giola, and Lena Tam. Photos Scott Piehler.

Current Alameda County District 3 Supervisor and former Alameda City Councilmember Lena Tam spoke next, reflecting on her decade as EBMUD’s Water Resources Manager, and the unique perspective it has afforded her in her current role with the county. Contra Costa County District 1 Supervisor John Gioia noted that he and Tam both were former EBMUD employees and praised the utility as a great example of the positive outcome of publicly accountable management of water resources.

Oakland Deputy Mayor Dr. Kimberly Mayfield spoke next, reiterating the rich history of EBMUD, and praising its efforts to reduce the financial burden on low income households through its Customer Assistance Program (CAP).

Alameda Post - photos of the time capsule before it is lowered. On the lid, it lists EBMUD's founding date, date of the time capsule, and date to be dug up. They are all May 22 separated by 100 years
The time capsule comes with instructions. Photos Scott Piehler.

The final speaker was Andy Katz, current President of EBMUD’s Board of Directors. He noted that climate change is among the utility’s largest concerns, going so far as to wonder if sea level rise would submerge the time capsule site by the time of the scheduled opening in 2123. As part of EBMUD’s efforts to combat the effects of climate change through a focus on greenhouse gas emissions, a goal of zero fossil fuel use has been set for 2030.

Katz also spoke of the human connection EBMUD has with clients, noting that it was the first utility to end the practice of water service termination.

Alameda Post - a time capsule is lowered into the ground and someone shovels dirt
Giola shovels dirt after the time capsule is lowered. Photos Scott Piehler.

Before he placed it in the time capsule, Katz shared a letter he had written to his counterparts 100 years in the future. It read, in part: “The legacy we leave to you will be a renewed infrastructure to bring our cities into the future. Our achievement of California’s designation of the Mokelumne river as wild and scenic represents our determination to protect the natural resources that we steward forever. Our long-term water supply planning reflects an understanding that as our East Bay cities grow, and confront the melting Sierra snowpack, we will persist in pursuing innovative approaches to supplement our water supply and make conservation a way of life.”

Alameda Post - a table of cupcakes in the shape of the numerals 100
Happy Birthday, EBMUD! Photo Scott Piehler.

The centennial activities then moved to the corner of 21st and Adeline streets, where a 5-foot-long, 12-inch-diameter ductile iron pipe—the time capsule—hung from a winch. Inside the pipe is an assortment of tools, mementos, promotional items, and more, including a scroll of employee messages to future workers. EBMUD staff and the gathered audience watched as the time capsule was sealed and lowered into the ground. The speakers then took turns throwing ceremonial shovels of dirt onto the capsule.

After that, it was cupcakes and conversation. And of course, water.

Scott Piehler hosts and produces Alameda’s only weekly news digest podcast, the Alameda PostCast. Reach him at [email protected].

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