Drought: City of Riverside Sues California Over Water Cutback Measures

Riverside (David McNew / Getty)
David McNew / Getty

LOS ANGELES — The city of Riverside has filed a lawsuit against the state of California over what it claims is an unfair order to cut water use in the city by 24%.

In April, Gov. Jerry Brown ordered the first mandatory water reductions in California history. In implementing the order, the State Water Resources Control Board devised a sliding reduction scale for each of California’s roughly 4,000 water agencies, in which cities with stronger conservation track records would be required to cut water use by a lesser percentage. The cutbacks range from 8 percent all the way up to 36 percent for water-intensive cities like Beverly Hills.

Riverside was initially ordered to cut water use by 28 percent, and then ultimately 24 percent.

But in a lawsuit filed against the state of California on June 4, the city claims that it should be included in a special 4 percent cutback tier because it has its own reliable water supply in groundwater stored in the Bunker Hill Basin, according to local paper The Press-Enterprise. The city applied for the special 4 percent rate, but was reportedly denied.

The problem stems from the Board’s definition of a “reliable water source;” namely, the designation refers only to surface water and not groundwater, or water located underneath the earth’s surface.

Riverside Public Utilities deputy general manager Kevin Milligan said the city wants the water board to include groundwater in its definition of a reliable water supply.

“The only difference is surface water you can see and groundwater you can’t,” Milligan told the paper.

The city of Riverside has taken steps to ensure it does not need to import a significant amount of water during California’s record drought. The city has reportedly invested tens of millions of dollars into the maintenance of the John W. North Water Treatment Plant to recycle wastewater and has relied on ample groundwater from the Bunker Hill Basin to see it through the drought.

Legal experts in California previously predicted that the state could face legal challenges from cities over its conservation plan, albeit over an entirely separate issue. In April, California’s Fourth District Court of Appeals ruled that a San Juan Capistrano water agency’s tiered rate structures–under which heavier water users are charged more for water, a key part of the Board’s statewide plan–violated the city’s voter-approved Proposition 218. That measure prohibits government agencies from charging more for a service than it costs to provide it.

According to the Press-Enterprise, Riverside’s lawsuit seeks a temporary restraining order and an injunction to prevent the implementation of the Board’s plan this month. The state has reportedly not yet been served with notification of the lawsuit.


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