County water agencies able to cope with ongoing drought

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Despite the severe drought that has hit the Inland Empire and most of California, prompting warnings from the governor about mandatory cutbacks, some of Riverside County’s largest water agencies say they are well supplied, without the need to impose drastic measures to conserve.

“The Eastern Municipal Water District is very well positioned to meet the needs of its customers during the ongoing drought,” the Perris-based agency said in a statement to the City News Service. “EMWD customers have reduced their per capita water consumption by more than 40% over the past two decades and adopted an industry-leading rate structure that promotes efficiency.”

The Coachella Valley Water District said the agency is “managed for long-term sustainability” through “local water efficiency practices (which) are always a priority.”

“Since the end of the last drought, approximately 400,000 acre-feet of water have been added to groundwater storage,” according to a statement from the Palm Desert-based agency. “It illustrates how water has been stored during wet periods so that it is available for use when needed locally, or there are statewide cutting mandates.”

The Palm Springs-based Desert Water Agency told CNS that at current service levels, the agency has reserves to continue meeting customer needs for “decades” even in the face of repeated cyclical droughts and extended.

“The Coachella Valley groundwater basin has a storage capacity of approximately 40 million acre-feet in the top 1,000 feet, and groundwater levels are currently sustainable and will be in the future. with planned management projects and actions,” the DWA said.

On Tuesday, the State Water Board announced a statewide ban on watering non-working turf in commercial and industrial areas, signaling the first of what could be a series of measures to promote conservation.

“California is facing a drought crisis, and every local water agency and every Californian needs to step up their conservation efforts,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said in response to the council’s action. “These conservation measures are increasingly important as we enter the summer months…because every drop counts.”

On Monday, Newsom called a meeting with heads of city water providers, calling for an aggressive effort to promote reduced water use. This followed an executive order in March ordering all water agencies to expedite enforceable conservation plans.

Similar executive orders were signed in 2021. According to the governor’s office, January through March of this year was “the first three driest months in the state’s recorded history.” The state’s largest reservoirs are at half their normal volume and the state’s snowpack is more than 80% below average, officials said.

California was in a similar position in early spring 2015, when then-Governor. Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency, ordering water agencies to cut consumption by 25%. The proclamation contained a host of restrictions, requiring local water agencies to issue fines to customers caught watering outside at certain times of the day.

After heavy winter rains in 2017 nearly overwhelmed several upstate reservoirs, Brown declared the drought emergency over in April of this year.

The Inland Empire receives more than half of its water from the Colorado River and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, through a network of aquifers, lakes and storage facilities that are part of the State Water Project. Most of Riverside County’s nearly two dozen water agencies are members of Southern California’s Metropolitan Water District, which controls distribution. But the agencies manage their own reserves.

“Parts of EMWD’s service area include an adjudicated basin, which has basic production rights and extraction limits that EMWD must adhere to,” the agency said. “However, EMWD has significant ‘carry-over’ on which to build. Other areas within the EMWD service area… have no pumping restrictions and include areas where groundwater levels have increased in recent years, indicating that there is a sufficient amount of ground water available.

According to the CVWD, since 2009, 800,000 acre-feet of water have been stored.

“CVWD has a diverse portfolio of water supplies that meet the current and future needs of the valley,” the agency told CNS.

All agencies said they were already taking action to reduce water waste and stood ready to do more.

The DWA bans the daytime use of water outdoors for spray irrigation and continues a practice first put in place by state regulators in 2015 of requiring local restaurants not to provide potable water unless requested by customers.

The EMWD offers rebate programs for installing artificial turf and no longer provides waivers for infilling pools or for customers adding landscaping.

The CVWD prohibits watering between 10 a.m. and sunset to deter litter and asks code enforcement officers and homeowner associations not to harass residents or businesses for allowing lawns to turn brown.

Several water agencies did not respond to requests from the CNS.

Newsom said drought conditions and the progress of local water agencies in reducing flows will be reassessed in July to determine what action to take going forward.

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