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Upcoming water restrictions on affected Inland Empire residents will be dependent on water supplier

Inland Empire Utilities Agency Carbon
A photo of the Inland Empire Utilities Agency Carbon (IEUA) Canyon Water Recycling Facility in Chino, Calif. The IEUA was the only Inland Empire water district affected by the new Metropolitan Water District watering restrictions.

Inland Empire Utilities Agency General Manager Shivaji Deshmukh spoke with KVCR's Jonathan Linden about the new Metropolitan Water District watering restrictions that will be affecting his water agency.

Below is a transcript of the conversation between KVCR's Jonathan Linden and Inland Empire Utilities Agency General Manager Shivaji Deshmukh.

Jonathan Linden: Just two weeks ago, the Metropolitan Water District (MWD) voted to require several water agencies in Southern California to take new measures to conserve water in their region. One of those water agencies was the Inland Empire Utilities Agency (IEUA), whose coverage area includes Chino Hills, Ontario, and Fontana. Shivaji Deshmukh joins me now and is the General Manager for the IEUA. To get started here, Shivaji, with these new regulations being put in place by the MWD, what is your agency’s response to these new regulations?

Inland Empire Utilities Agency
Portrait of Inland Empire Utilities Agency General Manager Shivaji Deshmukh.

Shivaji Deshmukh: Thanks. Yeah, and just as an intro, I think it helps to recognize that the IEUA... we are the only MWD member agency that’s in San Bernardino County. We cover about 240 square miles; we’ve got just under 900,000 People in our service area. There are seven major retailers, so we work very closely with them. Over the past month, Jonathan, we’ve been focused on wanting to work with the state and the MWD to make sure that we can recognize real water savings; we are in a state water project-dependent area. So, for our imported supplies, they do come exclusively from the state. However, we are fortunate that we do have a significant amount of local supply; we sit on top of a large groundwater basin. In addition to that, we’ve had a couple of decades of commitment to developing local supplies, like recycled water. So, when we do get hit with challenges in terms of reduced supply from the state, we are fortunate to be able to rely on those supplies. So, as we were working with the MWD, we said, let us know what the restrictions are. Obviously, conservation and water use efficiency is a priority for us all. But each one of our retailers has a unique supply source, and we wanted to make sure that they were able to rely on that as a backstop. So right now, our focus really is how can we shift off imported supplies from the MWD and how can we increase the amount of coordinated outreach that takes place within our region to let our residents know to cut back. But also, to let our retailers develop specific outreach programs and conservation programs for their individual retail bases. And so, we’ve been working with them on that, ultimately, we have to cut this much, we let you know how much water we’re going to get from the state, and then let the retailers figure out what the best balance is for them.

Jonathan Linden: And could you tell listeners a little bit more about these regulations that are being implemented? And how exactly your agency plans on making sure customers are following these new rules?

Shivaji Deshmukh: Great question; first, the MWD board last week approved essentially two pathways for MWD member agencies to go down. They could either use a pathway that limited outdoor watering to one day a week and eight minutes per station, or they could establish a volumetric limit for an agency and let us work with our retailers to address that gap. That’s the path that we’re choosing as IEUA, to work with the MWD to determine how much imported water we have available or have access to, and then work with our retail customers to make sure that we can cut. When we look at each of our different retailers, like I mentioned before, they do have different supply sources. So, we’re in the process right now; almost every few days, we’re working with our retailers to look at what their individual situations are and then work on an allocation and say, retailer X, you have to cut back this much, then they use their retail-specific approaches to achieve those reductions in water use.

Jonathan Linden: So, it will be these individual retailers that will decide whether people need to reduce their watering or if they’re going to be evaluating companies’ usage?

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Inland Empire Utilities Agency
Map showing the cities that the Inland Empire Utilities Agency serves. All water customers in their district will be restricted to watering outside only one day a week starting June 1.

Shivaji Deshmukh: Yeah, exactly. Each retailer will make their own decisions on that. Ultimately, we’re going to let them know how much reduction they’re gonna have from the MWD, and they’re going to work with their customers. We do anticipate that there are some requirements, from the state, in terms of implementing some of these water use efficiency measures, and so we’ll make sure to include those. One of the things we’ve seen from our customers is, we’ve been in this situation a long time, we always have to prioritize water use efficiency, and that’s a baseline for us. In addition to that, because of the extraordinary times we’re in, there’s going to be additional restrictions, and each retailer is going to be able to decide that.

Jonathan Linden: Shivaji, was there anything else that you would like to share with our listeners?

Shivaji Deshmukh: Yeah, definitely Jonathan. With climate change, we’re in a very different time when it comes to tracking precipitation and planning for the future. One of the things that we’re very proud of in our region is that we’ve had a long-standing commitment to local supply development. We recycle 100% of the water that comes through our wastewater treatment plants, and that recycled water is extremely valuable to us. Some of our customers use that in a term we call direct use. So, they use that to provide water to golf courses, medians, and industry. It’s a very high-quality recycled water that’s not potable, that’s good to use for watering lawns or for agricultural uses. In addition, this recycled water is so good, it goes back into the groundwater supplies, and the groundwater supplies are augmented by this very high quality of water, which is drought-proof. So, we need to continue to invest in local supply projects, and currently, we’re underway with our largest construction project, the RP-5 expansion, which is going to not only handle the additional growth that’s happening in our service area from a wastewater treatment standpoint but also produce more recycled water for us. The last thing I’ll mention, Jonathan, is that we’re looking to partner with the state in the water storage investment program. And we’re planning for a project called the Chino Basin Program. And what that does is it allows us to better utilize the groundwater basin that we have and increase the amount of recycled water that we have recharging and filling up that basin with. So that’s something that we’re planning for; if we do decide to move forward with that… if we had a program like that in place right now, we’d be able to be a great partner to the MWD and shift almost completely off important supplies in a critical time like now.

Jonathan Linden: Well, Inland Empire Utilities Agency General Manager, Sivaji Deshmukh, thank you so much for taking some time to speak with me today.

Shivaji Deshmukh: Thank you, Jonathan. Really appreciate it.

Jonathan Linden was a reporter at 91.9 KVCR in San Bernardino, California. He joined KVCR in July 2021 and served with the station till October 2022.