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Over 850,000 Inland Empire residents will have to limit outdoor watering to 1 day a week starting June 1st

Inland Empire Utilities Agency Carbon
A photo of the Inland Empire Utilities Agency (IEUA) Carbon 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.

KVCR's Jonathan Linden spoke with Western Municipal Water District Vice President Director Gracie Torres about the new Metropolitan Water District watering restrictions and what those restrictions mean for Inland Empire residents.

Below is a transcript of the conversation between KVCR's Jonathan Linden and Western Municipal Water District Vice President Director Gracie Torres.

Jonathan Linden: The Metropolitan Water District, which provides water to over 19 million residents in California, had their board of directors unanimously vote on Tuesday to require several water agencies in Southern California to take new measures to conserve water in the region. I'm joined now by Gracie Torres of Riverside, who's the vice president of the Western Municipal Water District. To start off, Gracie, can you tell listeners more about this order that was made by the Metropolitan Water District and what exactly it means for Inland Empire residents.

Courtesy of Gracie Torres.
Portrait of WMWD Director Gracie Torres.

Gracie Torres: So, the order that came down from Metropolitan Water District who selected six water districts in Southern California, which essentially is going to affect about 6 million residents... making more restrictions on water usage throughout the those service areas. I know that for Riverside County, (Eastern Municipal Water District) and (Western Municipal Water District) had actually been targeted or placed on that list. But due to their efforts to not be as dependent on Northern California water, they were able to bypass for now. The six agencies that were selected vary from Ventura, LA, and San Bernardino County, and those agencies will basically have to put restrictions on outdoor water usage for their customers, and specifically, that means going to irrigation one day a week. So, the kicker is essentially that if they don't make this imposition, and enforce it… they're gonna have to find ways and mechanisms to enforce it and check that people are not watering outside more than once a day... there will be a $1,500 fine for every acre-foot that is essentially over-watered. And what that means for Southern California is there's two things: One is that people are really going to have to embrace those brown lawns and "ugly yards," but really just learn to cut down, which is already very difficult to do, especially for people that have small groves or horses and barns. So that's going to be hard in rural areas. But it's going to have to come down to that, or else the fees are going to come down to the water districts, but eventually will get to the ratepayers. And then, in the long term, we can't be naive and not think that it's going to affect the rest of Southern California. If we don't comply, it will affect the rest of San Bernardino County, all of Riverside County, or maybe Orange County, and that's going to lead to a lot of change. Basically, this drought is not a surprise; we've known it was coming. The drought usually hits Southern California first, but the reality is that Southern California is incredibly dependent on other water sources, including Northern California, which is the supply that is being managed right now. Then now, the drought has hit Northern California... they're basically saying they can't keep supplying to Southern California, and that is where this is coming from. We do have other sources, including the Colorado River, and every day we are seeing that the Colorado River is historically low... it’s never been this low in supply before. So, it won't be too long before we might get the same restrictions coming from that source of water. One thing that we want to emphasize, aside from just complying, regulations are good, but they're usually reactive. We have to take proactive approaches now because eventually, it will hit all of Southern California. And that will put us in a very dire position because it will affect our green space, and we already have very little of it.

Jonathan Linden: So, it was the Inland Empire Utilities Agency that was affected by this order. And you kind of already mentioned about this before, but can you talk about why the Western Municipal Water District wasn't given these specific orders?

Screenshot 2022-04-27 202223.png
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.

Gracie Torres: So the Western Municipal Water District, not too long ago, was almost 100% dependent on Metropolitan Water District water. And in the last five to 10 years has taken a very strong approach to reducing that dependency by finding other water supplies, buying different water rights, and is now just about 60% dependent on Metropolitan Water District water but (Western Municipal Water District) as well as Eastern Municipal Water District... they're not only dependent on Northern California water, as I mentioned before, Metropolitan buys water from several sources, the most important of which are Northern California and the Colorado River. And so, this restriction is for those that are solely dependent on Northern California water, that are not able to be connected to the Colorado River. So (Eastern and Western Municipal Water Districts), were essentially able to make the case that we're not solely dependent on Northern California water. We have other supplies before you put us on this restriction, but if things continue to be that way, and seeing how the Colorado River is... again, historically low, it's very, very possible that will be next on this list.

Jonathan Linden: And Gracie, was there anything else about this topic that you would like to share with our listeners?

Gracie Torres: Essentially, one, we're going to have to embrace it. I think there needs to be hard conversations with those HOAs (Home Owners Association). HOA's that require green lawns, require beautiful manicured lawns... about lowering or changing their own requirements. Because a lot of people are actually constrained by that, and then we have to take a look at our agriculture and farmlands and know that they're also constrained because that is how they make money and they make a living. So, if we don't collectively comply, we're going to be in a hard position. But also, this is the time, and I think we've talked about this before, Jonathan; this is the time to look at the future. We need to invest in infrastructure, where we are collecting our own rainwater… we are supplying our own aquifers. With that rainwater, we're looking at greywater solutions so that people are independently treating their own water. And with that comes having a workforce that is helping us in those solutions. With these types of impositions, we're going to need people who are trained and skilled to, one, focus on infrastructure, but also to measure up to these compliance standards... the type of enforcement that requires people and requires time. So Northern California and Southern California have to find a way to decrease that dependency.

Jonathan Linden: Well, Western Municipal Water District board vice president Gracie Torres, thank you so much for taking some time to speak with me today.

Gracie Torres: Absolutely. Thank you for reaching out.