California’s Drought – Inland Empire Water Agencies Hit a Turning Point

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California’s Drought

Inland Southern California water managers have arrived at a turning point in the midst of California’s epic drought. They must now convince a water-guzzling public that there’s no longer enough cheap water to do everything we’re accustomed to doing.

Two water policy makers discuss the impact of strict state imposed water restrictions on the I-E as part of the continuing Randall Lewis Seminar Series presented by the UC Riverside School of Public Policy’s Center for Sustainable Suburban Development.

Joe Grindstaff and John V. Rossi, the general managers of the Inland Empire Utilities Agency and Western Municipal Water District respectively, were among several panelists who discussed the impact of strict state imposed water restrictions on the region. The recent public forum was part of the continuing Randall Lewis Seminar Series presented by the UC Riverside School of Public Policy’s Center for Sustainable Suburban Development.

Grindstaff and Rossi explained to Ron Loveridge, director of the CSSD and former Riverside Mayor, the drought crisis is both a turning point and an opportunity.

“We have the opportunity to figure out what are we willing to pay, what are our priorities, and how are we going to allocate the water resources that we have,” Grindstaff said.

They explained the I-E has long relied on its vast ground water supply and a homegrown water delivery system from the San Bernardino Mountains. But as the suburban population boomed, various local wholesale and retail water agencies formed to work with the massive Metropolitan Water District of Southern California to cheaply deliver water from Northern California and the Colorado River to the I-E.

The drought, however, has greatly changed MWD’s ability to import water.   There’s far less water to import from those distant sources.

In response, the state just imposed strict water conservation measures on all water agencies. Each agency was assigned a water reduction target. The statewide water reduction target is 25 percent. But the target is set at 32 percent for the Western Municipal Water District.

“We have a real crisis,” Rossi said.

The WMWD, Rossi added, had developed a rate structure based on budgets assigned to its customers in 2010. This structure allows the district to pass on new budgets to each customer now adjusted for the Governor’s mandated water usage cutbacks. The district was particularly sensitive with water dependent manufacturers to soften the impact on their bottom line and on jobs.

Many WMWD customers have really stepped up to the water conservation challenge, but Rossi added the district won’t see the real result of its water budget changes until later this summer.

Meanwhile, Rossi said the district is doing other things to help customers better understand what is happening with their water system.

Even if the drought ends soon, both managers agree all the local agencies must move forward with incremental water conservation projects that make economic sense.

“For decades, this region has been a leader in water resource management,” Grindstaff said.

“In spite of population, today we use about the same amount of water as we did 20 years ago,” he said. “That’s because we’ve become better at managing those resource, and I don’t think the future will change that much — we’re going to get better at using those resources.”

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