S. E. Williams
The Eastern Municipal Water District’s Board of Directors announced its intention to increase water conservation requirements by imposing greater restrictions on water used for outdoor irrigation in alignment with Stage 4C of its Mandatory Outdoor Water Reduction plan. The change becomes effective February 1, 2016.
Stage 4C of the agency’s Water Reduction Plan gives it the authority to reduce water budgets up to 100 percent, although the company was already in stage 4C with an outdoor water budget restriction of 30 percent imposed last September. Now, as a result of the board’s decision on Wednesday, January 6, the reduction will be increased by an additional 40 percent resulting in a total 70 percent reduction requirement.
The Eastern Municipal Water District (EMWD) serves customers in the cities of Moreno Valley, Menifee, Murrieta, and Temecula as well as the unincorporated communities of Good Hope, Homeland, Lakeview, Nuevo, Mead Valley, Murrieta Hot Springs, Quail Valley, Romoland, Valle Vista and Winchester. In addition, the District also supplies water on a wholesale basis to the Cities of Hemet, San Jacinto and Perris, Lake Hemet Municipal Water District, Nuevo Water Company, Elsinore Valley Municipal Water District, Western Municipal Water District and the Rancho California Water District.
The board’s decision to take this more drastic conservation measure was largely driven by the district’s continued inability to achieve its state-mandated conservation target of 28 percent as compared to 2013, implemented last June.
The water agency’s disappointing track record of reduction in recent months is reflected in the following results. In June 2015, the agency managed a 15 percent reduction. In July, the agency just missed the reduction target and managed to attain a 27 percent decrease in usage. However, in August, EMWD fell far short with only an 18 percent reduction. In September, the agency achieved a 24 percent reduction but fell far short again in October with a weak 17 percent decline. The agency’s reduction shortfalls continued through November and December.
Based on this performance, as of January 1, the EMWD had only managed to achieve a cumulative water savings of 19 percent—far short of the 28 percent reduction goal set by the State Water Resources Control Board.
In an exclusive interview with The Voice, EMWD Public Affairs Officer, Kevin Pearson shared how the water agency had already begun its notification efforts to advise customers of the pending change. “We did an e-mail blast [last week] to thirty-five thousand subscribers,” he confirmed. Pearson also explained how, with the help of a “heat map”, his agency planned to deliver door hangers to customers’ homes in high-use areas—a more aggressive outreach effort to notify subscribers of the pending change. In addition, EMWD will use bill inserts to reach out to customers in the traditional manner.
When asked how he expected the change will impact the company’s client base Pearson responded, “If a third of our customers made no changes, they will bump up; but, we estimate the majority of customers will make the necessary changes.” He continued. “For those who fail to make the required changes to conserve, most of them will pay less than twenty dollars per month more for exceeding their allotment; but, some will pay an additional fifty dollars per month.” he said. Of course, the billed amount will be based on actual use.
Fortunately, the increased reduction mandate is coming in the winter months, during a season expected to reap the rainfall benefits of a strong El Nino as evidenced by the torrential downpour that washed across Southern California last week.
“For every quarter inch of rain, you can shut off your sprinklers for a week and let Mother Nature do her work,” Pearson advised. He also shared his belief that outdoor irrigation will not be necessary over the next few months provided El Nino does what it is projected to do. “Customers may not have to use their irrigation systems at all,” he explained. “We encourage them to shut off their irrigation systems and let Mother Nature do the work,” he stressed again.
According to Pearson, the agency allots sixty gallons of water per person per day for indoor use. However, “EMWD’s outdoor irrigation allocation is tailored to the landscaped area of each property,” he explained. As a result, each property owner’s irrigation allocation can vary from his/her neighbors. In winter months, the outdoor irrigation allocation normally shrinks anyway according to Pearson. He added, “More [usage] is allocated in the summer when the weather is warmer”.
“We are doing a lot of outreach to businesses and other large users to get them to focus on their use,” Pearson offered. He also confirmed that on January 20, the EMWD’s Board of Directors is expected to prohibit irrigation of decorative grass at shopping centers, city-maintained areas and ribbons of grass along sidewalks—anywhere there is grass that serves no functional purpose.
Pearson was asked how concerned the agency is that if it continues to fail in its ability to meet the state mandated reduction goal, EMWD could be fined $10,000 per day. “We have been in constant communications with the State Water Resources Control Board. We are working to show aggressive steps to make changes,” he responded.
“A fine will impact our customers,” he lamented. “It may also affect our bond rating which will affect our ability to get low interest rates.” Pearson confirmed his agency has the ability and political clout to make the tough decisions when necessary. He stressed, “We believe we are making the right decisions. We are hoping it will make a difference for us.”
Pearson shared his belief EMWD is in a more difficult area than other places around the state. “Weather and lot size determine water usage,” he explained and continued. “So our usage is naturally going to being higher than coastal regions.”
The state, according to Pearson, is going to give a small credit for climate and population growth. “We’ve had some [growth] in our area.” he shared. “What we’ve done is, if you want a water meter—no grass in the front yard. Water efficient landscaping is required in order for us to provide a water meter.”
Pearson was asked what will happen if EMWD’s new effort to curtail usage fails. Where will the agency go from here? “We can still go up to 100 percent outdoor reduction. Our board felt 70 percent was appropriate at this time.” He continued, “As we get out of the drought, we will back out of those changes. As water supply conditions improve, our board will make necessary adjustments.”
The EMWD plans to continue working with commercial and industrial customers to make further water use reductions. “We believe there is significant savings to be achieved by these larger landscape customers,” Pearson offered.
All EMWD customers are also encouraged to join the agency’s 2016 Winter Outdoor Watering challenge and stop watering outdoors altogether this winter.
For more information on how you can conserve visit http://eastvalley.org/142/Conservation.