By Ryan Carter, The Sun
Posted: 04/11/15, 7:32 PM PDT

They can’t take a vote and make it rain, but as they began their spring session last week, Inland Empire legislators were listening to a chorus of local water leaders in their districts, who say they need tools and money to enforce unprecedented water restrictions, build new water infrastructure and preserve the region’s fair share of funding from recent water legislation.

Why should people care?

When it comes to water, preserving it in the Inland Empire comes down to not just survival, but customers’ money, said Assemblywoman Cheryl Brown, D-San Bernardino.

“Their water rates will go off the Richter scale,” she said, referring to the importance of securing funding for a range of measures for the region’s water and its infrastructure.

A day after Gov. Jerry Brown’s historic action to impose mandatory cuts in water use in urban areas around the state, Cheryl Brown met April 2 at her San Bernardino office with a range of water wholesalers, retailers and other agencies, who sounded off.

It was a meeting that had been planned before the governor’s order, but came at a pivotal time.

The state’s vital snowpack is at record lows. And winter came and went this year without much of a dent in historically low rainfall totals.

Cheryl Brown’s goal was to make sure the Inland Empire gets a fair share of drought relief from emergency drought-relief legislation signed March 27 by Gov. Brown. The law will allocate more than $1 billion, which will fund various water projects in the state’s most impacted areas, she said.

“As a region, we need to work together to secure the dedicated funding to protect our water supply,” Cheryl Brown said in a statement. “If we don’t start looking at how we’re going to maximize that funding across the state, we’re going to be left behind.”

Right now, the legislation will add $72 million to the state’s general fund, $272 million to Prop 1, $660 million to Prop 1E and $57 million to various other projects.

Cheryl Brown wanted inland water agencies primed for seeking funding through grants that will become available, she said. And because she has the governor’s ear, she said she could help secure those grants.

What emerged from the roundtable was a series of priorities, officials said.

For one thing, local water districts are concerned about how they will enforce the mandatory cuts.

The governor is seeking a 25 percent reduction in usage, but on Tuesday, the state’s Water Resources Board said that number will fluctuate from area to area, as some localities have already reduced much of their usage and some haven’t.

If water districts don’t hit their water allocation targets, they now face steep fines.

But policing local residents and businesses to make sure they comply with the order is a tall order for some water districts, which rely on small staffs to satisfy the water needs of their respective cities.

“They’re going to expect us to show that we can meet that 25 percent, but without having enforcement tools, how are we going to do that?” said Anthony “Butch” Araiza, general manager of West Valley Water District, which serves the drinking water needs of customers in parts of Rialto, Colton, Fontana, Bloomington and Jurupa Valley, as well as portions of the unincorporated areas of San Bernardino and Riverside counties.

Questions over short-term or long-term funding for staff who enforce water cuts need to be addressed, he said.

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