While the three Hill water districts are not immune to the drought overwhelming Southern California, they also are not as vulnerable as most of the region.
All three local water districts — Fern Valley (FVWD), Idyllwild (IWD) and Pine Cove (PCWD) — rely on annual precipitation — rain and, especially, snow — to percolate into the ground. FVWD and IWD also use stream flow for water sources. PCWD relies solely on groundwater wells.
This is quite different from most of Southern California, which depends heavily on imported water from the Colorado River or Northern California via the State Water Project (SWP). These sources are drying up quickly and is the reason for the extensive usage limitations.
While nearly an inch of rain has fallen in the past week, total rainfall still remains significantly below the annual average — for nearly three years. Drought conditions are expected to continue for months. The next normal or above-average rainfall period for the Hill communities, according to the National Weather Service, may not occur until winter — January through March.
A year ago, in response to worsening drought conditions, Gov. Gavin Newsom urged a 15% water savings each month from the previous year. California water users have not achieved this goal, and in March and April, usage exceeded 2021.
In May and June, larger districts began imposing usage limits due to inadequate water supplies. The State Department of Water Resources announced it would deliver only 5% of requested SWP supplies in 2022. SWP deliveries to Southern California are at a record low, a result of limited snowpack and reservoirs depleted by three years of drought. It recently banned using water for turf and other decorative plant areas in industrial and commercial areas.
In May, statewide water usage declined 3.1% from May 2021 and in June, the drop was 7.6%, the largest since December. While an improvement, these results still fail to achieve the target Newsom set last July.
The governor’s concern has not abated. Several weeks ago, he met with water leaders from throughout the state to acknowledge the recent reductions but continued to urge greater conservation.
“We are heading in the right direction but we need local water providers to do more to not only save water, but to help the state manage and increase supply as rain and snowfall become less reliable,” he counseled the attendees.
Hill water users are contributing to the conservation efforts. For the 12 months from July 2021 to June 2022 compared to the previous 12 months, a considerable reduction in water usage occurred in Fern Valley and Pine Cove. Water usage in Idyllwild increased, but that was largely the result of commercial business recovering from the COVID shutdowns.
Leading the conservation efforts were Pine Cove customers who reduced consumption nearly 10% during the first six months of 2022. Fern Valley users reduced their consumption about 7.2%.
IWD total usage actually increased about 5.6% during this period. However, the data reveals almost the total increase came from the district’s commercial water sales, while residential usage did decline.
Total IWD consumption for January through June 2022 was 43.7 million gallons compared to 41.4 million for the first six months of 2021. While residential consumption declined about 900,000 gallons, commercial increased about 3 million gallons.
But this is clearly a rebound due to tourists and visitors returning to Idyllwild.
Commercial consumption in January and February 2020, before the pandemic restrictions began, was considerably higher than the first two months of 2021. Then consumption from March through May in 2021, when travel began to return to normal, was higher than the same 2020 period.
The January and February commercial consumption this year was nearly 50% higher compared to 2021. February 2022 was only slighter greater than consumption two years earlier.
IWD residential consumption dropped 4% during the first six months of 2022, the smallest decline of the three districts; but about the same as other districts within this State Water Resources Control Board region.
Nevertheless, Hill consumers are reducing water consumption without the draconian provisions necessary in other Southern California districts.
Besides tourism, some have speculated that the views of water management will influence consumers’ conservation efforts.
In October 2021, after Newsom declared the drought emergency, Victor Jimenez, FVWD general manager, said, “I hope the [proclamation] will bring to light that we are in a drought. Most people up here don’t waste water.”
FVWD moved to its Water Conservation Stage 3 in September and after alerts from former General Manager Jerry Holldber, PCWD moved to Stage 2 Feb. 1. IWD General Manager Leo Havener went from Stage 1 to Stage 2 Water Emergency on June 1.
Another insight from these data is that short-term rentals (STRs) are not a threat to local water supplies. Usage in both Pine Cove and Fern Valley water districts has been declining. The details also show that Idyllwild residential, which is where that district’s STRs would be located, also is declining. If STRs aren’t driving water usage up, it is in the commercial district as customers return to local restaurants and wine bars.
But drought and water conservation are on the mind of many Californians. According to a Public Policy Institute of California survey conducted from July 8 to July 15, nearly 30% of participants identified water supply and drought as the most important environmental issue for California. And 68% said water supply was a big problem in their part of the state.
Consequently, nearly 70% also said state and local governments were not doing enough to address the drought and nearly the same number said people in their area of California were not doing enough to respond to the drought. However, while nearly 85% of respondents said they have done something to respond to the drought effects, only 45% said their actions were a lot. In the survey, 16% said they have taken no action.
But it appears Hill residents are taking some actions to conserve water.