Riverside, Calif., Fights Governor Brown’s Water-Reduction Order

     FRESNO, Calif. (CN) – The city of Riverside is fighting California’s order to cut its water use by 24 percent, saying it has a four-year supply of groundwater and does not import water from elsewhere.
     Riverside sued the State Water Resources Control Board in Superior Court on June 4, asking the court to set aside the board’s emergency water conservation regulations.
     Riverside, pop. 317,000, the seat of Riverside County, 60 miles east of Los Angeles is wholly dependent on local groundwater supplies, has a four-year supply of water and does not import any water from outside of its hydrologic region, the city says.
     Riverside claims that since 1913 it has “invested a significant amount of money and time to be water independent,” in part by acquiring seven private water companies that had significant rights to extract groundwater from local basins.
     The city built the John W. North Water Treatment Plant in 2008 “to further increase its local water supplies and to definitively eliminate Riverside’s need for imported water.”
     The plant and associated projects cost more than $100 million, with $12.8 million of it funded by Proposition 50, passed by voters in 2002 for construction of water infrastructure to reduce Southern California’s consumption of imported water.
     Since May 2008, the city says, it has not imported any water from the Colorado River or from the State Water Project.
     Despite the state’s four-year drought, Riverside’s water levels have remained stable thanks to its groundwater basins that are naturally recharged, the city says in its complaint.
     The city’s basin supplies are carefully monitored and operated to maintain water levels between a minimum and a maximum level to prevent local flooding, Riverside says.
     “(A)ny water that Riverside does not extract will sit in the basin, and cannot be extracted or used by others,” the complaint states.
     “Riverside is truly ‘water independent.'”
     Nonetheless, the water board ordered Riverside to cut its water consumption by 24 percent under regulations intended to help California meet Gov. Jerry Brown’s executive order to reduce urban water use by 25 percent.
     The regulations grant exemption to urban water suppliers that do not import water from outside of their region and have a minimum of 4 years’ worth of water, Riverside says. Such suppliers may request to reduce their potable water production by just 4 percent a month, the city says.
     This exemption was included in the governor’s order because some water agencies in Northern California are wholly served with surface water, and reducing diversions of surface water will not affect water supplies since the surface water would otherwise flow into the ocean, according to the complaint.
     But the water board did not exempt water suppliers such as Riverside, which have adequate groundwater supplies, the city says.
     Riverside explained this to the water board and other water agencies during a May 15 public meeting, saying its adequate groundwater supplies would be needlessly harmed by being excluded from the 4 percent conservation tier.
     Water board staff responded “that it would simply be too difficult to include groundwater in the 4 percent tier, but provided no evidence why including groundwater suppliers would be any more difficult than including surface water suppliers. No other reason was giving for listening to one class of water suppliers, but ignoring the other class of water suppliers,” Riverside says.
     The city says the water board refused to include groundwater-based suppliers in the 4 percent tier.
     “Unless a temporary restraining order and injunction is issued, Riverside’s ability to serve water to its customers will be impaired, which will cause real and economic harm to the city, its residents, and customers, despite an adequate water supply. Despite its adequate water supply, Riverside will also be subject to significant fines of up to $10,000 per day for noncompliance with the emergency regulations,” the complaint states.
     Riverside is represented by Deputy City Attorney Anthony Beaumon, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Nor did the water board.

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