It isn’t easy to be a water district these days. Water shortages are hitting some of them now and they’re the ones who have to tell people. Water districts deal with specific projects and real people and attitudes in real time. From the lofty position of a state agency, one can opine grandly about trends and inevitabilities. But water districts have to make concrete decisions about how to provide water and they will hear plenty from their customers if the decisions aren’t what everyone is used to. Last year was a drought year; it was likely a herald for a new drier hydrology in California. Districts are looking at maxed-out water supplies and the news that there isn’t more available at the prices they have always paid. But their customers don’t like hearing that water districts cannot create water in their pipes and faucets.
In this LA Times article
*, the Eastrn Municpal Wtr District has told a proposed warehouse and associated community that the district does not have enough water to serve them.
The planned distribution center for the footwear firm Skechers USA would rise on 1.7 million square feet in the Inland Empire, making it one of the largest warehouses in the United States. It would anchor a new community called Rancho Belago**, a variation of the Italian for "beautiful lake," after nearby Lake Perris reservoir.
Now, in a sign of growing water anxieties, the Skechers warehouse and six other large projects in western Riverside County are on hold until March or later because the local water agency could not promise to deliver water to serve them.The dilemma shows what can happen when construction and global trade, key drivers of the regional economy, are reined in by a potential lack of water.
"Just looking at the raw numbers, we kept coming up short," said David J. Slawson, president of the board of directors of the Perris-based Eastern Municipal Water District, one of the largest districts in the state.
This distresses the local building industry and business leaders, who worry this threatens continued development. I would think that major corporations would be glad to find out there isn’t water to serve their 1.7M square foot warehouse before
they build it, but apparently they resent hearing that limiting factors exist in the physical world. The water district wants to serve them. It is doing on a district scale what the entire state is going to have to do. They’re looking at the total amount of water they control and thinking about shifting it between uses. They’re hoping to pick up new supplies from a wholesaler. They’re scrounging, trying to figure how they’re going to provide water as their population more than doubles. UPDATE 4/22
: Looks like they found water for the warehouse
, by xeriscaping a proposed housing project.
In San Diego County, Valley Cntr Municpal Wtr District customers are not happy about cutbacks
. They are so not happy that they are threatening to stop paying their water bills if the district approves new developments.
"There has been a fairly common response to the calls for voluntary conservation, and that has essentially been: 'Why should we conserve just so youcan sell water meters so developers can build new homes?' " Valley Cntr Municpal Wtr District's general manager, G4ry 4r4nt, said in a Dec. 17 report to the board of directors.
So far, angry customers haven't banded together in opposition, but 4r4nt and Rainbw Municpal Wtr District Manager D4ve S*ymour said this week that their agencies have been bombarded with calls from individuals arguing that it was unfair for districts to issue new meters during drought conditions.
I’m sympathetic, sortof. Agricultural water users, which is most of the people in that district, are facing mandatory 30% cuts, which will cost them some of their orchards and livelihoods. Why should they reduce their water use to accommodate new development? Well, because people are coming; 1.5 million more people will live in San Diego County by 2050. Valley Cntr Municpal Wtr District is also doing in microcosm what the whole state will have to do. They’re shifting water from agricultural uses to urban uses and begging urban users to conserve. Only it isn’t an abstract trend for them. They have to hear about it from disgruntled people, their own customers and neighbors. They will know, specifically, what less water means to the people they live among.
Water districts don’t have a lot of the authority to make the changes they want. They aren’t the first line of land-use decision-making; all they can do is inform the county planning commission about their supplies. They can’t directly regulate customer water use. They can raise prices, but only to cover their own costs. They aren’t allowed to make a profit; most water district bylaws forbid that. The district boards are elected from the district. Even necessary price increases can cost directors their seats. They can’t refuse to serve people that are already in the district. If they have any excess water, they are obligated to serve new customers who ask for district service. They have very little direct authority to make people use less water. They also don’t have much power to get more water. They can’t grow new rivers. They can try to buy from a wholesaler, but even the big wholesalers are just about fully committed and expecting cutbacks. They can try to look for unconventional new sources, like buying from ag in northern California. That is so complex as to be barely possible. It may be their only option, but it is not an easy one.
Yeah. Water districts are in a rough place. It is a good time to watch them, because need will have them improvising like crazy. Rainbw Municpal Wtr District Manager S*ymour said
"I don't have all the answers, but if we don't see an end to this current drought, we are all going to have to find out what the answers are pretty quick."
Best of luck to you, mister. I’m watching to see what you’ll do.UPDATE: Another example
of a district heading out on the path we'll all be walking soon. They're installing irrigation systems that talk to local weather stations to decide how much to water the landscaping that day. They cost, but for big users of urban water I think the payback period on those is just a few years.
*The title of that article is particularly bad. “Water laws may throttle growth”? The problem isn’t that there are laws requiring districts to assess their supplies before committing them. The problem is that there is ONLY SO MUCH WATER IN THE SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA DESERT. Not having water should stop growth, unless you are fond of building houses that will stand empty when no water comes out of the tap. Building houses does not draw rain down from the sky, nor open springs to fill reservoirs nor summon the unicorns with cold pure streams gushing from their horns.
**The developers of Rancho Belago are not helping their cause much with these pictures of their proposed development
. Folks, western Riverside is a desert. Look in the middleground of that picture. See how it is brown, no vegetation? That means desert. You should propose water efficient developments. Also, I don’t mean to get all nitpicky, but that golf course in the foreground? It sure looks like that is on an alluvial fan
, just like the ones across the valley, which means that the very ground was born by sliding down the mountain. If you use your top-secret decoder ring for Naturespeak, this means YOU ARE IN THE PATH OF LANDSLIDES. If you crank your decoder ring one more time, it translates to DO NOT PUT HOUSES THERE!