Water, Water, Not Everywhere: The East Side's Coachella Valley Water District Largely Issues Recommendations Rather Than RestrictionsWritten by Kevin Fitzgerald
The board of directors of the Coachella Valley Water District—the agency that provides water to much of the east end of the Coachella Valley—met on Tuesday, May 12, to issue a final set of emergency water usage restrictions.
When it was all over, CVWD customers were facing a much less onerous set of restrictions than residents elsewhere in the valley.
After more than an hour of public comments from an audience of roughly 120 residents and business owners, the CVWD issued mandates including:
- The watering of outdoor landscapes within 48 hours of measurable rainfall is prohibited.
- The irrigation of ornamental turf on public street medians is no longer allowed.
- The use of water in decorative fountains is prohibited unless there is a recirculation system.
- Restaurants must serve water only on request.
- Runoff flows from outdoor watering are now a no-no.
However, the CVWD did not follow the lead of the west-side Desert Water Agency (DWA) or the Indio Water Authority (IWA) and place mandatory restrictions on the watering of ornamental landscapes.
Rather, it was “recommended” that CVWD customers continue to water only between sunset and 10 a.m., any day, if they so choose. That’s quite a contrast to the restrictions issued by the other water agencies. The IWA limits landscape irrigation to the hours between 6 p.m., and 6 a.m., on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays. The DWA mandated that residential customers can only water Monday, Wednesday and Friday, between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m., while commercial, industrial and institutional customers can water on alternate days—but only after they submit a plan approved by agency personnel.
Katie Ruark, the DWA’s public information officer, explained how the DWA board of directors came to the three-days-per-week, mandatory restriction.
“Math,” Ruark said. “We ran some calculations internally to see what we would have to do to reduce overall usage by 36 percent, and knowing that landscape watering accounts for the majority of water use … we knew that we had to cut down to that many days to get where we needed.”
Almost all of the CVWD board’s “restrictions” aren’t restrictions at all, but “recommended activities” in which actions are either “strongly encouraged” or “strongly discouraged.”
“I think the board decided that people need to have flexibility in determining what works best for them,” said CVWD spokeswoman Heather Engel after the meeting. “They set a goal at 36 percent below your budgeted water use amount, and you know we’re not asking every single person or customer to reduce. Some people have already done their part, and they don’t need to do any more. But for the people who are above that threshold, they are saying, ‘You do what you need to do to get your number down.’ So if that means you need to limit your watering, then fine, but maybe there’s somebody else who can get to their number without reducing their watering.”
That flexibility was not offered to DWA and IWA customers.
“Our strategy has been to achieve a community-wide reduction,” said Ruark of the DWA. “And the reason for that is that we know there are people in our community who have put in desertscapes; they’ve taken out their old washer and dryer and put in water-efficient ones; they’ve redone their irrigation systems, and they don’t have a lot of room left to save. We also know that there are people who do have a lot of room to save. So we implemented 13 water-use restrictions, and we’re essentially controlling the way you use water, and not necessarily how much you use.”
There is some hope for all valley residents: The onerous 36 percent total reduction mandated by the state may be rolled back to some lesser amount, thanks to the efforts of the DWA.
As reported previously, the DWA was the only one of the Coachella Valley’s three major water agencies that put in the time and effort to argue for the reduction of the valley’s per-capita water-usage calculation as adopted by the State Water Resources Control Board. Partly as a result of the agency’s explanation as to how the valley’s seasonal and tourist population inflates the water usage that is attributed to the smaller full-time residential community, the state board decided to allow agencies statewide to present revised estimates and supporting data on actual per-capita population totals.
“We’ve been making the comment since 2010, when we did our urban water-management plans, that it was just not accurate for us to use (federal) Census data,” Ruark said. “Other population projections have to be incorporated in this area, because our seasonal population is so significant.”
If the revised and lower per capita numbers are accepted by the State Water Board, that could lessen the target water-usage reduction total.
“This is huge for all the agencies in the Coachella Valley, and we’re very excited that we’ll be able to do that,” Engel said. “Right now, we’re trying to figure out and back up a population number which we think is more accurate. But we’re still confirming our data with as many experts as we can to make sure we can defend it.”
If the state does decrease the target from 36 percent, would usage reduction targets be moved to that lower number?
“I think we would have to go back to the board and see how they want to respond,” Engel said.
As for the DWA, “That is hard to say,” Ruark said. “Our board is open to effectiveness always, but specifically to say would they change the restrictions halfway through the game, I don’t know.”
No matter which Coachella Valley water agency provides you with the valuable natural resource, you should visit the appropriate website and study up on the restrictions from and behaviors allowed by your agency. If you hope to avoid financial repercussions, such as higher-tier rates and/or potential fines—the CVWD has had fines in place for a year now, and the DWA is looking into them—you need to be proactive in observing and managing your water usage.
“We’re not a policing agency,” Engel said. “We’re not going to go crazy with these restrictions and fines. Our goal is to educate people and to assist people.”
Below: The Coachella Valley Water District mandated that customers can’t water within 48 hours of measurable rain. That was one of the few actual restrictions issued by the agency, which instead focused on recommendations. Photo by Kevin Fitzgerald.