Calif. Water District Adopts 'Water Banking' Strategy

Yucaipa Valley Water District (YVWD) has adopted a water banking strategy to protect local residents and businesses from continuing drought as well as uncertainties involving the future availability of water from the Sacramento Delta, according to an Aug. 22 press release.

The strategy is one of several long-term conservation policies approved by the district's board of directors recently.

"We think water banking is a prudent move," said Joseph Zoba, YVWD's general manager. "It will not only help us protect our customers from future water shortages, but give us the ability to replenish our local groundwater basins, which have been drawn down through many years of pumping beyond natural recharge rates."

But the water banking strategy, as one might expect, will cost money to implement, and developers as well as existing YVWD customers will pay the price when the district starts collecting fees to purchase additional water that can be stored underground.

Effective Nov. 1, YVWD will add a 15 percent surcharge on water consumption charges billed to its business and residential customers. This money, which would amount to about $2.50 per month for the typical homeowner, will be used to purchase additional State Water Project water that the district could store in its groundwater basins for use during periods of statewide water shortages.

Effective July 1, the district requires anyone planning to build a new home or business to deposit sufficient funds for the purchase of at least 7-acre feet of water for each home before being allowed to proceed, and that's assuming the district is not experiencing mandatory water use restrictions. However, if the district experiences water restrictions requiring a 20 percent reduction in water use, these property owners may not be allowed to build their homes.

Property owners and developers who want to increase their chances of being allowed to build their homes can do so by purchasing 15.7 acre feet of water up front per dwelling. This would give them "Crystal Status" and enable them to proceed with their developments even during the implementation of water use restrictions, which require everyone to reduce their water consumption by 20 percent. However, even Crystal Status property owners could face some restrictions during periods when mandatory water use cutbacks of up to 35 percent are implemented. No development would be allowed when the district is experiencing mandatory water use cutbacks of 50 percent.

Zoba said these measures amount to responsible planning and are critically needed given the current condition of Yucaipa's groundwater basin and future uncertainties involving the district's ability to import water from the Sacramento Delta. The continued drought and concerns over the fate of several endangered species of fish have prompted a federal judge to order 30 percent reductions in Delta water deliveries this year.

"Our water banking program is a local solution to the surface water storage reservoirs being considered by the Legislature," Zoba said. "Our program has the same benefits, and we can replenish our basins when water is available in wet years."

Zoba said the district plans to supplement its water banking strategy with new recycled water delivery systems so that water that is locally used can be recycled and reused for outdoor landscaping purposes of new commercial and residential developments. He said the water banking and recycling strategies will eventually enable the district to maintain a reliable and sustainable water supply. It will also insulate the district from periodic droughts as well as fluctuations in the availability of water imports.

Yucaipa Valley Water District provides water and wastewater treatment services to about 50,000 customers in a 50-square mile service area that includes the cities of Yucaipa and Calimesa and adjacent incorporated areas of Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

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