Water districts serving Riverside County are urging elected officials to continue asking residents to conserve water while pushing for increased state investment.

As drought conditions worsen across the western U.S., conserving water and finding new sources has become a top priority for local water districts serving Riverside County.

The U.S. Drought Monitor shows large swaths of California are in exceptional drought, though Riverside County is mostly in the severe drought category. (Credit: U.S. Drought Monitor)

“As the watersheds dry up in the southwest, both in California as well as regionally, we need to be concerned about things,” Dan Jaggers, general manager for the Beaumont-Cherry Valley Water District, said. “And I think you’re gonna hear the general thought is we all need to do more to conserve in the short term, and then lobby for real significant projects to satisfy these situations should climate change move forward.”

Jaggers was one of five water district representatives who spoke with the Riverside County Board of Supervisors late last month about the important role county leaders can play in not only decreasing the impacts of the ongoing drought, but also in pushing for future investment from the state for water resources.

How did we get here?

According to Joe Mouawad, general manager for the Eastern Municipal Water District, to understand the current conditions the supervisors first needed to understand what led to this point starting in 2017.

“If you recall, that year was a record year in terms of rainfall and snowpack up in the Sierras,” he said. “In fact, if you recall, there was so much rainfall that Lake Oroville, the emergency spillway, was damaged. So as of that year, all of the reservoirs statewide were full to the brim.”

But by October of 2021, Gov. Gavin Newsom had declared a statewide drought emergency.

“It’s quite a whiplash effect going from essentially all of our reservoirs full to virtually within a matter of a few years being in a very severe drought,” Mouawad said.

In November of last year, the Metropolitan Water District declared a drought emergency and began shifting water supplies and promoting a stronger conservation campaign. That same month, the State Water Board declared its first-ever 0% State Water Project allocation.

Things started looking better last December, one of the wettest months on record, but that hope was short lived. A lack of precipitation from January through April of this year  — the driest four-month period on record — deepend the state’s drought and erased the water supply gains from December.

“It’s a very severe drought that we are in, and beyond the State Water Project, as you’re well aware, the Colorado River has been in drought conditions for the past 20 years,” Mouawad said.

Due to the ongoing drought impacting the Colorado River, those states and nations that draw water from the river must cut usage next year by between 2 million and 4 million acre-feet, Mouawad told the supervisors.

“Not to paint too grim of a picture, but I wanted to at least set the stage,” he said.

With Lake Powell currently hovering around 25% capacity and Lake Mead at about 28% capacity, Jaggers said the situation could become even more dire.

“If the drought continues, we begin to have issues of lack of power generation,” he said. “These are significant things.”

What can be done?

“Surviving a drought with emergency conservation measures is not where we want to be,” Craig Miller, general manager of the Western Municipal Water District, said. “We want long-term solutions.”

Those long-term solutions, according to Miller, require increased statewide investment in water supply facilities including water storage and conveyance.

“We all recognize that we need more investment,” he said. “This fifth largest economy in the world, the state of California, is not going to survive without more water investment.”

And while the water district representatives urged supervisors to advocate for additional state investment in long-term solutions, the best short-term fix continues to be conservation.

“It’s simple messaging,” Rob Grantham, general manager for the Rancho California Water District, said. “Fix leaks; track your water; as you can, change out your turf. If you’re not using it and it’s nonfunctional, take it out.”

Other steps Riverside County residents can take to conserve water include watering landscaping between the hours of 6 p.m. and 10 a.m. to reduce evaporation, reducing irrigation to three times per week, washing only full loads of laundry and dishes, taking shorter showers and using a low-flow showerhead, washing their car at a carwash that recycles water instead of at home and cleaning driveways and walkways with a broom instead of a hose.

“Riverside County is one of the largest growing counties in the state,” Victoria Llort, the government and legislative affairs manager for the Coachella Valley Water District, said. “And with that water is critical water is key for all sorts of building and development.”

Alicia Ramirez is the publisher of TN News and the founder and CEO of its parent company TN News.