Riverside officials are limiting outdoor watering in the Inland Empire’s largest city this summer to three days a week as the region confronts a rapidly worsening drought.
Riverside Public Utilities General Manager Todd Corbin said the restriction applies to 66,000 customers who are supplied drinking water by the city, which is asking customers to cut overall use 15%.
“We’re asking our customers to water their landscapes no more than three times per week,” Corbin said at at Riverside City Council meeting Tuesday, June 14, according to a meeting videotape.
To be consistent, Western Municipal Water District is recommending Riverside families who receive water from the agency irrigate lawns and gardens a maximum of three days a week, Assistant General Manager Sarah Macdonald said Tuesday, June 21. It is not a requirement, she said.
Western Municipal customers are being asked to curb overall use 20%, Macdonald said. The district serves about 600 customers in southeastern neighborhoods such as Orangecrest and Mission Grove, or about 5% of the city’s residents.
Officials from both providers emphasized it is crucial that Riverside residents do their part to save water, and the best place to do that is outdoors, where about 60% of water is applied.
“It’s a very, very serious drought,” said Craig Miller, Western’s general manager, according to a videotape. “And we’re not seeing the reductions that we should in water use.”
“We’ve got to get our customers to take it more seriously,” Miller said.
The call to conserve comes as a widening drought grips almost all of California and the Inland Empire is listed as in “severe drought” by the U.S. Drought Monitor.
One year ago, Gov. Gavin Newsom asked Californians to voluntary trim consumption 15%. Then in March, after water use actually went up rather than down during winter, Newsom ordered agencies across the state to tighten rules.
The bump up in water use came in the driest January, February and March ever recorded for California, as a whole, at a time when Inland residents usually can expect to turn off sprinklers for long periods and let Mother Nature nourish landscapes.
Corbin wrote in an email that water use by customers exceeded the city utility’s five-year average in each of February, March, April and May, and consumption for the fiscal year that ends June 30 is about 3% greater than had been expected.
Macdonald wrote that Western customers increased consumption 6% between July 2021 and April, though preliminary data for May indicates less water was used then.
In a bid to turn that trend around, city and Western officials are asking residents to limit watering to three days a week and are putting in place other rules, such as:
- A restriction limiting landscape irrigation to between 6 p.m. and 10 a.m. if served by Riverside Public Utilities, and between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m. if served by Western
- A ban on hosing off sidewalks, driveways and other hardscapes
- Requirements to adjust automatic irrigation controllers, repair sprinkler-system leaks promptly and equip hoses with shut-off nozzles
- A prohibition against letting water run off one’s property
When it comes to enforcement, Corbin wrote that the city doesn’t have a system of meters that can monitor how many days a week people water outside. But he said utility staffers and code enforcement officers will look out for wasteful practices, particularly landscape water running into the street.
Corbin wrote that staffers and code enforcement officers also will look into complaints that “nonfunctional turf” is being watered.
Under a rule that applies across the state, commercial, industrial and institutional water users may not irrigate “nonfunctional turf.” The state water board rule applies to common areas of homeowners associations, too, though not to individual homeowners’ yards within those associations. Residential customers are exempt.
“Nonfunctional turf is turf that nobody uses,” Miller said, in offering a definition. “If the only time you ever walk on that is to mow it, it’s nonfunctional turf. So if your family uses it, or your pets use it, or it’s a picnic area, it’s fine. But if no one uses it, it’s nonfunctional and you’re not allowed to irrigate that.”
Different areas of the state are affected in different ways by the drought.
Riverside, which gets its supply from wells that tap groundwater, is not facing a shortage, Corbin said.
“It is prudent, however, to protect these valuable resources by helping customers to become even more efficient in how we irrigate our landscapes,” he wrote.
Groundwater levels have been declining because of the drought, he said.
Malissa Hathaway McKeith, founder and president of the group Citizens United for Resources and the Environment, recently sent a letter objecting to the state water board’s regulations, which she characterized as “arbitrary and capricious” because they don’t make exceptions for places that aren’t dependent on the State Water Project.
McKeith said by phone Tuesday that she worries cutbacks will adversely Inland communities such as Riverside, which endure hot and smoggy summers and depend on trees for cooling. Many trees could die because of the restrictions, she said.
“We lost a lot of trees in 2015,” McKeith said, referring to California’s last major drought.
During that drought, Riverside sued the state over a mandate to cut consumption 28%.
While the latest drought rules recognize the importance of watering and protecting trees, McKeith said, “the problem is that most of us turn off sprinklers to the lawn, and most of the roots are under the lawn.”