22 July 2009

Water, Public Policy and the Stonefield Development

Increasingly, prolonged drought and environmental regulation have placed water issues at the forefront of political discourse in California. Locally, Chino Hills, last summer, issued a Stage II Water Alert taking conservation from voluntary to mandatory levels. Director of Public Facilities and Operations Pat Hagler, in a city press release, stated:

California is suffering from a State-wide drought and water supplies are down. We must stop wasting water because this concern is not going away.

Stage II status was declared because the water supply was to be reduced by as much as 10% and the City expected its imported water stock to be slashed by 7%. This action followed an announcement by the Metropolitan Water District (MWD) that southern California supplies would be reduced by 10% and the state's issuance of a State of Emergency Water Shortage.

In a 4 April 2009 article, the Chino Hills Champion noted that in the ten months since the Stage II Alert was issued, water usage had decreased in the city by 12%. Notably, the paper also pointed out that the city's water supply was, as follows:

Chino Hills receives 43 percent of its water from MWD through the Water Facilities Authority. Another 14 percent is groundwater from city-owned wells, 21 percent comes from Monte Vista Water District, 14 percent from the Chino Basin Desalter Authority and 8 percent from recycled water provided by the Inland Empire Utilities Agency.

Therefore, because MWD announced its 10% reduction plan, and Chino Hills obtains almost half of its water from the giant water agency, the Stage II Alert was issued. Yet, when it comes to the Alert, we need to go back to the City's August 2008 press release and this passage in particular:

The Stage II Water Alert does not apply to construction projects . . .

Next comes a rather obvious question: Why not?

Because the crux is that housing projects are being proposed now but will be built later, often much later, that will not need mitigation for water because Environmental Impact Reports routinely state that there is plenty of capacity and copious supply and, moreover, that future projections of water availability are going to continue to be on the plus side measuring demand to capacity. Let's put a few statements into bullet form:

  • The western United States is in a prolonged drought;
  • Reservoir levels are low throughout California;
  • Environmental regulations have limited available supply from the Sacramento Delta;
  • The Colorado River and its various reservoirs (Lake Mead, for example) are low in volume;
  • The MWD has cut back supplies to southern California by 10% since last summer;
  • California has been in a water State of Emergency since last summer;
  • Chino Hills has been in a State II Water Alert since last summer, with eight items of mandatory restrictions;
  • A city official is quoted in a city press release as saying that, "We must stop wasting water because this concern is not going away";
  • Yet, this same release states that "The Stage II Water Alert does not apply to construction projects . . ."

So, when it comes to the Stonefield housing project staff's response to comments on the Draft EIR (DEIR) are "the maximum daily demand water supply capacity requirement for 20-10 is 29.10 million gallons per day (MGD), whereas the capacity available is 41.14 MGD." From there the ratio of demand to capacity for 2020 and 2025 remains hardly unchanged. Moreover,

based on the aforementioned information, the City, with its present and "imminent" mix of water sources, possesses a significant surplus of capacity . . . [and] a shortage scenario wherein the City's well capacity was reduced by 50 percent and imported water deliveries were restricted to 80 percent of nominal maximum deliveries, the City would still have 5 MGD of capacity over and above its ultimate maximum day requirements. Therefore, sufficient water supply is available for development.

It is worth noting, however, that

the demands were derived from observed water use during one of the driest prolonged periods on record (2002), and they are believed to be representative of a "worst case" water demand environment.

2002 is already 7 years ago. Excepting the freak occurrence of 2004-05 when we had near-record rainfall, we have continued to have drought almost every year since 2002 and the accumulation of dry years is, of course, correlated to global climate change issues. So, that worst case water demand environment that is now seven years out-of-date bears what relevance now? And, what are supposed to take from the word believed?

Now, when a certain concerned citizen from Sleepy Hollow raised the questions of water supply and the role of global climate change in supply, the response from staff was:

A comment letter . . . received from IEUA [Inland Empire Utility Agency] addresses IEUA's attempt to maximize its local water supplies with increased conservation, desalter water, and recycled water. . . A recycled water conveyance system does not exist in the project area.


the effects of climate change on water supplies is speculative


. . . although the impacts of climate change on future water supplies was regarded as speculative, mitigation measures were included in Section 4.8, Climate Change in the Draft EIR to reduce the project's consumption of water.

The letter referred to, dated 16 January 2008, states that

over the past five years IEUA has been attempting to maximize its local water supplies with increased conservation, desalter water and recycled water. To reduce the possibility of future water shortages from the drought and the likely reduction in imported water supplies from MWD during the next few years, IEUA is working to accelerate the implementation schedule for recycled water projects and to expand its conservation programs.

Further, the letter recommends that the development use recycled water "for all approved uses." On top of this, when said Sleepy Hollow concerned citizen raised the question of determining supply as speculative, staff rejoined:

The commentor is incorrect . . . that future supplies of domestic water [are] speculative in nature.

Now, remember the word believe in the staff assertion that 2002 standards for determining worst case scenarios for water availability were still applicable? And, yet, the same staff position is that said Sleepy Hollow commentor is wrong in stating that future water supplies are speculative? Isn't belief essentially speculation?

Why is said commentor incorrect? Because staff's own seven-year old analysis of "historic" water demand and supply conditions and its "belief" in the reliability of said seven-year old observations and analysis proves that "commentor is incorrect." Back to the bullets:

  • Water supply capacity in 2010 is 29.10 million gallons and capacity available is 41.14 MGD, according to staff;
  • IEUA in its 16 Januaru 2008 letter notes that 2006-07 (4 or 5 years after the city's 2002 benchmark) "was a record-breaking dry year for California";
  • IEUA said that it "has been attempting to maximize its local water supplies . . . to reduce the possibility of future water shortages from the drought and the likely reduction in imported water supplies from MWD during the next few years . . .";
  • Drought-caused shortages are not a possibility, they are a reality;
  • MWD cut supplies by 10% less than 6 months after the IEUA letter;
  • IEUA's response to to anticipated [that is, real] problem: recycled water and conservation;
  • IEUA's recommendation for Stonefield: "use recycled water for all approved uses";
  • Problem? Stonefield will not have access to recycled water for years to come, if ever;
  • Problem? Conservation measures for houses up to 5,500 square feet and 37,000 square foot lots are simply not enough in the context of the contradictory messages offered in the City's Stage II Water Alert press release and staff's response to DEIR comments.

In Monday's Los Angeles Times, there is a front-page article about the truly amazing work being done by IEUA generally in taking storm water and other wastewater, treating it through filtration, and then storing it in a massive groundwater basin system. As a consequence, while the City of Los Angeles only gets a little over 10% of its water from groundwater and has to import 88%, while recycling a pathetic 1% (this because the mammoth flood control system first implemented en masse during the 1930s achieves one objective--directing storm and wastewater out to the ocean where it is completely wasted), IEUA has a little more than half of its supply from groundwater, about 12% recycled, and 6% of surface water, limiting its imports to 43%.

Remember, however, that in April, the Champion reported that Chino Hills receives 43% of its water from MWD. 8% is recycled water from IEUA (with 0% of that going to Stonefield) and 14% comes from desalting efforts from that Chino Basin described in the previous paragraph.

So, unless something has changed literally "overnight" (that is, in three-and-a-half months), Chino Hills is still getting near half its water from MWD, hence the Stage II Alert. But, we're told by staff to ignore all that because its projections of future water supply, based on standards and observations already seven years out of date, tell us that there is more than enough water even in the dreaded "worst case scenario," which, again, is believed to be accurate.

City official Pat Hagler says the drought issue is not going away, but staff says it's not an issue for Stonefield. The city mandates water saving measures and residents dutifully comply by reducing use by 16%, but then says that construction projects are exempt from the provisions of Stage II Alert that the rest of us are forced to adhere to.

This is a project, it bears repeating, that will have homes from 3,500 to 5,500 square feet on lots from 12,000 to 37,000 square feet--several times larger than the average Chino Hills home.

Finally, it also is worth a reminder that water issues are not determined by the Stonefield DEIR to be a matter of insignificant environmental impacts and that, according to the staff response document,

The effects of climate change on water supplies is speculative.

As if, projections on future supplies and demand are believed to be representative and are, therefore, somehow not speculative.

This brings us, mercifully, to the end of this long-winded exposition and these (hopefully) pertinent questions:

Is it good public policy to:

  • Declare a local water alert mandating mandatory conservation measures and yet exempt construction projects from these measures?
  • State publicly that "this concern [about water restrictions] is not going away" while simultaneously opining that Stonefield (and presumably any other desirable proposed development) has access to plenty of water?
  • Cite an IEUA letter as support for a staff position about the bountiful supply of water available to Stonefield (whenever that project happens to be built) when the letter's only concrete recommendation is to use recycled water, even though recycled water can't be used for that project?
  • Use the word "believe" in addressing staff's accuracy of representing worst case scenarios for water scarcity while labeling "incorrect" a layperson's statement about the speculative nature of determining future supply?

Ultimately, the arbiters of what is good public policy for Stonefield and the question of water are the members of the Planning Commission and, on appeal, the City Council.

Next up: traffic.

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