Eastern Municipal Water District’s plan for reliable groundwater service
■ Rob Lindquist / former manager, Lake Hemet Municipal Water District
The Eastern Municipal Water District (EMWD) met with Hemet City Council May 2 to present to the council and community the agency’s proposed Groundwater Reliability Plus Program for optimizing water treatment and storage throughout its service area. EMWD Assistant General Manager Joe Mouawad and Public Affairs Officer Kevin Pearson also gave the same presentation to The Valley Chronicle staff the following day.
It would be tempting for this former water district manager to follow in the footsteps of his uncle Doyle Boen by “getting down to cases” as Boen was wont to assert, but, there’s neither enough room in this column nor the publication to cover the history and the many critical decisions that have brought us to this point in local water development and distribution. Boen was the first manager of the new EMWD when it was formed and incorporated into the greater Metropolitan Water District (MWD) in 1951.
Seismic activity affects our groundwater stores
Let it simply be said that Mother Nature blessed the San Jacinto Valley with a couple of large earthquake faults: the well-known Claremont or San Jacinto Fault and the Casa Loma Fault. Both run parallel from southeast to northwest with approximately four to seven miles between them. The northeasterly side runs along the San Jacinto Mountain range while the southerly side cuts across the valley’s center, passing through Park Hill. Geologically speaking, the valley south of the Casa Loma Fault is slowly shuffling toward San Francisco whilst the mountains north of the San Jacinto Fault are respectively moving in the opposite direction.
Between those two major faults lies a so-called “block” of land composed, in large measure, of all the sand, silt, rubble and clay that has historically been deposited by the San Jacinto River and its tributaries for thousands of years.
Due to the region’s larger tectonic activity and its sympathetic reactions to the famous, more distant, San Andreas Fault, this enormous block composed of layers of riparian/landslide debris effectually “sinks” as it filled with what is in large part, sand. What we are so fortunate to have, possess, manage and protect is what a German geologist once described as a “horst und graben” basin which, in our case, can contain millions of acre feet of locally collected groundwater.
MWD’s tunnel was a game changer
Now, “getting down to cases,” there was a time, just 100 years ago, when a settler or farmer living above what today is called the Upper Pressure Sub-basin of the graben could find groundwater pouring out a well pipe without the need of a pump anywhere west of Hewitt Street in San Jacinto. However, this great storehouse of artesian water began to wane as the number of water dependent groves and field crops increased.
The most dramatic change in local water levels and water availability began in the early ‘30s with Los Angeles-based MWD’s unlined tunnel, which fortuitously intersected ancient water reserves cached behind the several faults comprising the Claremont fault system. This produced a massive hemorrhaging of high quality “old water” that brought lawsuits from flooded landowners, severely deprived the Soboba Reservation population of spring water and hastened the extraction of groundwater in the upper and lower sub-basins underlying San Jacinto and its riverbed.
EMWD was formed as a sub-agency of MWD just as Southern California was experiencing a long period of drought that was making folks anxious about falling water levels, agricultural growth and the effect of the post-war housing boom on our existing water resources.
Colorado River water was allowed to be diverted from the MWD aqueduct into San Jacinto, accompanied by MWD’s attractive motto, “You need water? Come and get it!” In 1971, EMWD purchased the Fruitvale Mutual Water Company District, the eastern boundaries of which embraced a large portion of the Upper Pressure Sub-basin, entitling Eastern to produce local water within and ultimately outside of what was renamed the ID-20 Improvement District. About the same time, the valley’s water prospectus rose markedly as additional higher quality northern water became available through the California State Water Project.
EMWD’s Groundwater Reliability Plus program
In respect to Eastern Municipal Water District’s new “Groundwater Reliability Plus Program,” it is comforting to know that Eastern and, of course, Metropolitan, are eager and ready to march in lockstep with what is becoming the long awaited resurgence of residential development, especially to our west.
Two more water recycling treatment plants are on the drafting table for Perris and, right here in the San Jacinto Valley, many more acres of land overlying the Upper Pressure Sub-basin will feature recharge ponds that will enable Eastern to both capture local water and accept recycled water piped in from outside of the San Jacinto Valley for district storage and general distribution.
Eastern’s forthcoming water reliability program will result in our being partners in the sharing of San Jacinto groundwater and imported recycled water production in interdependent partnership with all of Eastern’s 146,000 potable water customers.
Continue to conserve
Perhaps the Groundwater Reliability Plus Program helped enable EMWD’s publicity arm to announce, after our welcome spring deluge, that the “drought is over,” even though Sacramento and Metropolitan remained effectually silent and Lake Hemet Municipal Water District continued to impose water use restrictions and penalties.
There is no guarantee that our San Jacinto Valley groundwater basins will ever recover from over-drafting, or for that matter, the relentless advance of climate change. There is only this thought that needs to be considered regarding the Groundwater Reliability Plus program: Groundwater depletion is not a local problem that can be solved by artificially recycling water that originates or was initially delivered somewhere else than in the San Jacinto Valley.
Regardless of how capacious and efficient the new settling (recharge facilities) may be, the water that goes into them will, gallon for gallon, go right back where it came from, be it Menifee, Perris, Nuevo, Juniper Flats, wherever. Yet, water departments and districts (including EMWD) will still continue to pay, directly or indirectly, for importing northern water (when available) if we are to meet our own needs and those of the Soboba Reservation. The same can be said for bringing back groundwater basin levels that will allow both our valley’s public and private well owners to independently pump water efficiently with reasonable economy.
Summarily, it might be well for all of us to at last understand what Mark Reisner so eloquently stated in his 1991 book about water in America’s west; to wit, that we Southern Californians live in a “Cadillac desert” that cannot support vast hordes of new residents without squandering the single, most precious resource, other than air and a decent meal, that we cannot live without… “cool, clear, water.”
So, please continue to be water conscious. Be, each of you, a good steward of this precious resource. Learn about our Valley’s Watermaster Committee and its important role in local basin management and water allocation. Above all, remember that, regardless of the water agency that serves you, you should continue to hold a primary right to our local basin groundwater, its management and the responsibility to protect it from further depletion.