By Jim E. Winburn, www.civicbee.com
(VICTORVILLE) – It’s not enough that High Desert communities face the continuous problem of having enough water in terms of both sustainability and growth, but there is also other obstacles, such as increasing regulatory burdens as well as community outreach to inform constituents of the very regional water issues – and proposed solutions – that require science-informed analysis for sound policy decisions.
Such information was central to the discussions introduced at the 2013 High Desert Water Summit held at the Hilton Garden Inn in Victorville on Friday – an event that sought dialogue among the region’s public water agency leaders tasked with planning and ensuring the High Desert’s future in water supply and sustainability.
According to Yvonne Hester, a community liaison officer for the Mojave Water Agency, more than 100 concerned civic leaders, local water stewards and fellow stakeholders attended the summit, which addressed the issue of whether or not enough water remains for the High Desert’s future growth and sustainability.
“Many in the water community are well aware of this, there really exists a threat that is shared now between the water agencies and the cities and counties, which are the land planners doing the development,” said Mojave Water Agency General Manager Kirby Brill, who kicked off the discussion regarding ‘Show Me the Water Laws,’ which are demand public assurances toward adequate water supply available as part of the local land use planning process.
“This really changed the game – radically, for both how water agencies look at water planning and also how cities (plan development) – really thrusting those two groups together,” Brill said. “We have to develop these plans every five years, and we have to show how the projected demands will be met by projected supplies … and we also have to address how those demands will be met during normal years, dry years and multiple dry years.”
Brill also said that water agencies must execute projects based on the science behind the evaluation, warning that “you can’t manage what you don’t understand.”
Mojave Water Agency Principal Geologist Lance Eckhart provided insight into this technical analysis, assuring that MWA is trying to fill the role as a resource steward for the High Desert region by investing in science today for easy and transparent decisions tomorrow.
And this is accomplished by the very technical expertise of the agency’s geologists, engineers, data analysts, planners, database managers, technicians and chemists.
“Those folks come together to try and develop an understanding of our water resources in this region, plan ahead and serve up good data to our elected officials so they can base some sound decisions and policies on real data,” explained Eckhart, noting that much more stakeholder, local agency and regulatory collaboration is needed for certainty and common understanding that will lead to better decisions.
Congressman Paul Cook, R-Yucca Valley, elaborated on the collaboration required to address pressing water issues for the region.
“When it comes to water issues – when it comes to regional issues, municipal, even county issues – you got to work together,” Cook said. “But you have to work with (fellow elected officials and constituents) on common denominators because this is our biggest issue: we’re in the desert, we need water. It’s getting more and more difficult.”
The congressman said that by talking to officials in the regulatory agencies will lead to a greater understanding behind legislative intents, while encouraging local water agency officials to always bring issues to his attention.
“If it’s real, real egregious – if it’s one that has unintended consequences that it’s going to do irreparable damage to your constituents, then you come to someone like me and say, ‘Hey, we’ve got big problems. This is a disaster; can you come help me?'” Cook told the participants of the conference.
San Bernardino County 1st District Supervisor Robert Lovingood also spoke at the conference, explaining that because water is the central component of the High Desert community’s success, collective response can be the only recourse.
“The county is working aggressively … to ensure we really address (and plan for water) infrastructure needs and what needs to be done to 2035,” Lovingood said. “I think we have to look at the plans in our areas and go beyond that. I don’t see why we’re not looking at the next hundred years at some concern – and then working really collectively to ensure that we have success.”
Jonathan Weldy, president of Meridian Land Development said builders and developers of the High Desert are just as concerned as civic leaders and water officials about the availability of water in the region.
“Because we’re dependent on new water supply, (planners and developers) have obviously been aware of this for a long time,” Weldy said. “And I want you to understand, truly, if we fail, we will aggressively act; if we fail to invest in the implementation of planning and building and infrastructure … we’re going to end up going to our businesses and restaurants and saying, ‘There is no future for you here. You can be exactly what you have been all along, but you cannot grow.'”
Weldy also said that social pressure, due to much community outreach, is changing the outlook of businesses and residents who are thinking twice about conserving water.
“So if you look at the tools that are at play here, this social pressure and social change is one of those tools I think we need to keep our foot on the gas as part of that,” Weldy said. “I think you’re going to see a time where social pressure changes the way we think about water and the way we behave.”
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Other featured speakers included Robin Kobaly, executive director of the SummerTree Institute; Jordan Levine, director of Economic Research at Beacon Economics; Stephen Arakawa, manager of the Bay-Delta Initiatives Program at the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California; and Gary Lynch, vice president of Water Quality at Park Water Company.
Moderators and panelists included Scott Weldy, vice president and general manager of Apple Valley Ranchos Water Company; Kirby Brill, general manager of Mojave Water Agency; Lance Eckhart, principal geologist at Mojave Water Agency; Ryan Orr, public information officer at Victor Valley Wastewater Reclamation Authority; Anita Tuckerman, chairman of the board at Victor Valley Chamber of Commerce, and director of Asset Services at Stirling Development; Mike Podegracz, city manager of Hesperia; and Jonathan Weldy, president of Meridian Development.
Sponsors of the 2013 High Desert Water Summit included Mojave Water Agency, Opportunity High Desert, the Baldy View Chapter of the Building Industry Association of Southern California, Apple Valley Ranchos Water Company, and Mojave Copy & Printing, Inc.
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The Mojave Water Agency sets water policies over a 4,900 square-mile region, managing the region’s water supply by utilizing the collaborative efforts and resources of its communities. The agency’s updated 2004 Mojave Integrated Regional Water Management Plan offers communities new opportunities to plan for their specific water needs, while having yielded an investment of $170 million in local water infrastructure and water supplies over the last 10 years through local, state, and federal dollars. This investment has included the construction of pipelines and groundwater recharge sites, procurement of new water supplies, development of a comprehensive water conservation program, and removal of invasive species in the Mojave River.
For more information on water sustainability efforts and policy in the Victor Valley, visit http://mojavewater.org.