Water Exporter Riverside Sues State over 28% Cutback

In California, drought has been redefined as when your city has surplus water it already sells to alleviate shortages of other water suppliers that doesn’t count towards its state-mandated water cutback.  Even water suppliers that are water independent and export water to other water districts to alleviate drought are being tagged with as much as 28 percent mandated water cutbacks.

One such city is Riverside, which has sued the California Water Resources Control Board over its 28 percent reduction mandate on the basis that it is “water independent” and its groundwater should be counted toward meeting the requirements for only a 4 percent water curtailment.  Statewide the Water Board’s goal is to cut back urban water usage by an average of 25 percent.  But the Water Board has mandated a certain percentage of water reduction, from 4 to 36 percent, for each city based on gallons of water used per person per day.

To meet the lower 4 percent requirements a water supplier cannot include groundwater or imported water and must show it has a four-year reserved water supply available.  The Water Board has an appeals process but that does not include considering groundwater.  Riverside petitioned the state to be included in the 4 percent water conservation category earlier this year.

Ironically, the City of Riverside actually sells some of its excess water to Western Municipal Water District, which is a member agency of regional water importer MWD.  In 2015, the City plans to sell 847,212,600 gallons of water (2,600-acre feet) to Western MWD (see page 3-15).  That would constitute water that urban Southern California does not have to import from the Sacramento Delta or Colorado River.  Since 1995, the City has sold 9.247 billion gallons of water (28,831 acre-feet) of water to Western MWD (see page 3-5).  However, none of Riverside’s exported water counts toward reducing its 28 percent mandated cutback.

And the City’s groundwater is not unregulated, as its groundwater basin is adjudicated and is administered by the Western San Bernardino Watermaster (see page 4-1).  Additionally, the City has a Recycled Water Distribution Plan and Water Use Efficiency Master Plan (see page 2-11).

Riverside Became Water Independent in 2008

The City of Riverside became independent from state water imports from northern California and the Colorado River in 2008, when it shifted to all groundwater and recycled water (see page 3-9).

Riverside still has existing pipeline connections to imported water from water importer the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD). Riverside still has the capability of purchasing imported water from MWD through a pipeline connection at the MWD Henry J. Mills Filtration Plant (see page 2-8).

But, as Heather Raymond of Riverside Public Utilities has stated: “No matter how much we save it has zero effect on the state water supply”.  Since Riverside takes no imported water any cutback would not save any water in the state water system for use by other cities or farms.

The City has a contractual agreement to buy 21,700 acre-feet of imported water from MWD through Western MWD in the event of an emergency (see page 3-16).  And its 2010 Urban Water Management Plan calls for buying 21,700 acre-feet of imported water from Western MWD in 2015 (see page 4-1), but has not done so.

Its Water Plan also indicates its groundwater basins were in a state of overdraft prior to the 2012 -2015 drought (see page 4-6).  But four future local water supply projects would replenish its groundwater supplies by 20,200 acre-feet, from 2015 to 2030 (see page 4-9).  By 2030, these new projects would increase its water supplies by 14 percent.

Wayne Lusvardi is a free-lance writer who formerly wrote on water and energy policy for Calwatchdog.com