Despite the severe drought impacting the Inland Empire and most of California, prompting warnings from the governor of mandated cutbacks, a few of Riverside County’s largest water agencies say they’re well-stocked on supplies, 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 released to City News Service. “EMWD customers have reduced per-capita water usage by more than 40% in the past two decades and have embraced an industry-leading rate structure that promotes efficiency.”
The Coachella Valley Water District said the agency is “managed for long-term sustainability” thanks to “local water efficiency practices (that) are always a priority.”
“Since the end of the last drought, approximately 400,000 acre-feet of water were added to groundwater storage,” according to a statement from the Palm Desert-based agency. “This illustrates how water was stored during the wet periods so that it is available for use when there is a local need, or there are statewide mandates for cuts.”
The Palm Springs-based Desert Water Agency told CNS that at current service levels, the agency has reserves available to continue to meet customers’ needs for “decades,” even in the face of repeat and protracted cyclical droughts.
“The Coachella Valley Groundwater Basin has roughly 40 million acre-feet in storage capacity in the first 1,000 feet, and groundwater levels are currently sustainable and will be into the future with planned projects and management actions,” the DWA stated.
On Tuesday, the State Water Board announced a statewide ban on watering non-functional turf in commercial and industrial sectors, signaling the first of what could be a range of measures to promote conservation.
“California is facing a drought crisis, and every local water agency and Californian needs to step up on conservation efforts,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said in response to the board’s action. “These conservation measures are increasingly important as we enter the summer months … because every drop counts.”
On Monday, Newsom convened a meeting with the heads of urban water suppliers, urging an aggressive effort to promote reductions in water consumption. That followed an executive order in March directing all water agencies to accelerate enforceable conservation plans.
Similar executive orders were signed in 2021. According to the governor’s office, this year’s January-to-March period was the “driest first three months in the state’s recorded history.” The state’s largest reservoirs are at half their normal volumes, and the state’s snowpack is more than 80% below average, officials said.
California was in an analogous position by the start of spring 2015, when then-Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency, directing water agencies to reduce consumption by 25%. The proclamation contained a bevy of restrictions, leading to requirements that local water agencies fine customers caught watering outdoors during certain times of the day.
After heavy winter rains in 2017 that nearly topped off multiple upstate reservoirs, Brown declared an end to the drought emergency in April of that year.
The Inland Empire receives more than half of its water from the Colorado River and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, via 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 the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which controls distribution. But agencies manage their own reserves.
“Portions of EMWD’s service area include an adjudicated basin, which has base production rights and extraction limits that EMWD must meet,” the agency said. “However, EMWD has significant `carryover’ available that it can draw upon. Other areas of EMWD’s service area … do not have pumping restrictions and include areas where groundwater levels have been rising in recent years, indicating there is a sufficient amount of groundwater available.”
According to the CVWD, since 2009, 800,000 acre-feet of water has been collected in storage.
“CVWD has a diverse portfolio of water supplies that meet the needs of the valley now and into the future,” the agency told CNS.
All of the agencies said they’re already taking steps to curb water waste and stand ready to do more.
The DWA prohibits daytime outdoor water use for spray irrigation and continues a practice first brought forward by state regulators in 2015 of mandating that local restaurants not provide drinking water unless patrons request it.
The EMWD offers rebate programs for installing artificial turf and no longer provides variances for filling swimming pools or for customers who add landscaping.
The CVWD prohibits watering between 10 a.m. and sunset to deter waste and asks code enforcement officers and homeowners’ associations not to clamp down on residents or businesses for allowing lawns to turn brown.
Several water agencies did not respond to CNS’ requests for comment.
Newsom said drought conditions and local water agencies’ progress in cutting outflows will be re-assessed in July to determine what actions to take going forward.