Last evening the people of our community spoke and, for a change, somebody listened. That somebody, Rancho California Water District, had proposed a BUILDING MORATORIUM by eliminating eliminating the issuance of water availability letters and the installation of new water meters. That would have deleteriously impacted residential and commercial development in the City of Temecula, some in the City of Murrieta, the Wine Country and other unincorporated areas including the vineyards and avocado and citrus groves.
The effort brought out am avalanche of community response, hundreds of letters and emails generated by the business and Real Estate community, and a parade of speakers in opposition to the proposal – a true Grassroots effort. City and County leaders, developers, wineries, Realtors, attorneys business owners and ‘just plain folks’ spoke out against this poorly conceived and ill-timed matter.
The outpouring was so large that RCWD had to bring in workers to direct traffic in their lot and post security. As one Director noted, there were more people assembled last night than they’ve seen in total in the past ten years.
The dog-and-pony show that preceded public comments included presentations from RCWD General Manager Matt Stone as well as representatives from the Metropolitan Water District and the Eastern and Western Municipal Water Districts. I suspect RCWD brought these folks in thinking they would bolster RCWD‘s position in playing up the water crisis. Unfortunately these representatives did just the opposite. They spoke of being ‘under allocation’, the positive effects that conservation measures have provided and the variety of projects underway and planned to address the shortage at the local and state level. Kinda takes the wind out of your sails when the people you get the water from poo-poo your whole rationale. As Eastern’s GM told us – the problem is not No water but rather no CHEAP water.
There is no denying that California is experiencing a drought – a combination of natural drought caused by less rainfall and snowpack the past 3 years, and a regulatory drought caused by a federal judge responding to environmentalists concerned about the possible extinction of the Delta Smelt. This last aspect has actually contributed more to the problem than the lack of rainfall, leading to greatly restricted water flowing to 20 million Southern Californians and to the Central Valley.
The Central Valley of our state, often referred to as the foodbasket of the nation, has allowed over 200,000 acres to go fallow from lack of irrigation water, entire groves of fruit and nut trees are dying and unemployment is over 40%. New tiered water rate structures have boosted everybodies bills by 20% – 40% with more coming in spite of the fact that demand from our largest wholesaler – Metropolitan, has declined in each of the last four years.
Our water companies have borrowed a page from the oil company playbook – whenever there’s a shortage, whether real or perceived, don’t miss that opportunity to jack your rates. But as I told them last night, not even the oil companies are shortsighted enough to propose a moratorium on building automobiles. Our local economy is built around positive growth – shut that down, you shut down the whole revenue stream,the job market and critical city services.
The problem with the Director who proposed the moratorium, Jack Hoagland, is that he is being myopic to a fault. He is looking at the issue as if water is the only player in the game. He has consistently refused to acknowledge that he is surrounded by an entire forest as he focuses on a single tree, that water is but one tile in the mosaic that makes up our economic community.
The efforts of our cities, our EDC, our Chambers has been to support the businesses that are trying to hang on during these challenging times and attract new ones bringing much needed job growth to the area. Currently over 60% of our residents still commute to San Diego, Orange or LA counties to work. A moratorium is a job-killer for our community while chasing those jobs and tax revenue to nearby cities not subject to RCWD. It shuts off the spigot not just for water but for much needed jobs.
Last night five out of seven RCWD Directors got it. Thankfully.
But as they and other pointed out, we need an El Nino this winter, Colorado needs a lot of snow, and we as a state need to pass the recently enacted $11 Billion water bond measure next year to bring some long term relief to our over burdened water infrastructure. Otherwise this moratorium proposal may be revisited and next time we may not prevail.
If the meeting accomplished nothing else, it elevated the discussion to a whole new level and provided a good education to a lot of people who may not otherwise be engaged. RCWD is evaluating other alternatives now and a new dialogue has been opened between them and the community they serve. Let’s hope we can all make the most of this reprieve.