By Mark Gutglueck
In an historic move of significant consequence, the agency charged with overseeing jurisdictional issues in San Bernardino County without fanfare last week placed the six cities in the county’s southwest corner and a portion of the unincorporated land at their peripheries into the sphere of influence of the Metropolitan Water District.
The Metropolitan Water District is, essentially, a creature of Los Angeles County, having been established in 1928 under an act of the California Legislature to build and operate the 242-mile Colorado River Aqueduct to Los Angeles. The City of Pasadena initiated the organization of the district, which mailed to various cities in Southern California an invitation to submit to their citizens the proposition of joining the Metropolitan Water District. Twelve cities took Pasadena up on the offer and submitted the proposition to their voters, with voters in eleven of those cities electing to join the collective. Of the original eleven chartering cities, seven – Los Angeles, Pasadena, Santa Monica, San Marino, Beverly Hills and Burbank – fell within Los Angeles County. Two – Anaheim and Santa Ana – were Orange County entities and two – San Bernardino and Colton – enclosed by San Bernardino County. In 1931, Compton, Fullerton, Long Beach and Torrance joined the Metropolitan Water District, tipping the balance of control of the district even more heavily in favor of Los Angeles and Orange counties. San Bernardino and Colton were participating as members under the impression and assurance that the route of the Colorado River Aqueduct would come across the Mojave Desert, down the Cajon Pass and through their jurisdictions. By the 1940s, however, the passage for the aqueduct was changed to bring it through the San Gorgonio Pass in Riverside County, while Orange County, serving in a proxy capacity for several of the other members, successfully sued San Bernardino over the amount of water it was going to receive as a consequence of the project. As a consequence, both San Bernardino and Colton withdrew from the Metropolitan Water District. At present, the Metropolitan Water District’s participating municipalities are the cities of Anaheim, Fullerton and Santa Ana in Orange County and the cities of Beverly Hills, Burbank, Compton, Glendale, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Pasadena, San Fernando, San Marino, Santa Monica and Torrance in Los Angeles County. Other agencies now participating in the Metropolitan Water District, which is sometimes referred to simply as Metropolitan or by its acronym MWD or as the Met, are the Calleguas Municipal Water District, which serves southern Ventura County and the northwestern part of the Greater Los Angeles Area; the Central Basin Municipal Water District, serving the City of Los Angeles and the City of Commerce; the Eastern Municipal Water District in Riverside County; the Foothill Municipal Water District, in Pasadena; the Las Virgenes Municipal Water District in Calabasas in Los Angeles County, the Municipal Water District of Orange County; the San Diego County Water Authority; Three Valleys Municipal Water District, serving the Pomona, Walnut and eastern San Gabriel Valleys; the Upper San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District, serving El Monte and the surrounding area; the West Basin Municipal Water District, serving 17 cities and unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County; the Western Municipal Water District of Riverside County; and the Inland Empire Utilities Agency, known by its acronym IEUA.
The Inland Empire Utilities Agency is a regional wastewater treatment agency and wholesale distributor of imported water to the various water agencies in southwestern San Bernardino County, covering the cities of Chino Hills, Chino, Montclair, Ontario, Upland, San Antonio Heights Rancho Cucamonga, Guasti and adjacent unincorporated county areas. Some 875,000 people live within the service borders of the IEUA, which encompasses over 242 square miles. The agency is devoted to providing three key services: (1) treating wastewater, developing recycled water, local water resources, and conservation programs to reduce the region’s dependence on imported water supplies and drought-proof the service area; (2) converting biosolids and waste products into a high-quality compost made from recycled materials; and (3) generating electrical energy from renewable sources.
Given that the Inland Empire Utilities Agency is the entity through which a significant amount of the water imported into the southwestern corner of San Bernardino County and that most of the water the Inland Empire Utilities Agency obtains through outside sources comes from the Metropolitan Water District, San Bernardino County’s Local Agency Formation Commission last year proposed expanding the Metropolitan Water District’s sphere of influence into San Bernardino County. Since the departure of the cities of San Benardino and Colton as Metropolitan Water District participants nearly three generations ago, the Metropolitan Water District has had no officially dedicated authority in San Bernardino County.
Among the water purveyors within the Inland Empire Utilities Agency’s jurisdiction are the City of Chino Hills, the City of Chino, the Monte Vista Water District, the City of Ontario, the City of Upland, the San Antonio Water Company, the Cucamonga Valley Water District, and the Fontana Water Company. To meet the needs of their customers, those water suppliers utilize groundwater, local surface water, imported water and recycled water. From the late 19th Century until well into the 1960s, much of San Bernardino County in general was devoted to agricultural use, and the West, Central and East Valleys in particular, stretching from Redlands in the east to Montclair in the west were heavily laden with either citrus orchards or vineyards or both, and both Chino and Chino Hills supported separate farming and dairy operations featuring in some cases livestock numbering in the several hundreds to over 1,000 head. There were other farming operations involving the cultivation of strawberries, beans, corn and tomatoes that were generally less expansive than the citrus and grape-growing and dairy operations, but nevertheless a real presence in San Bernardino County. Beginning in the 1960s, and accelerating during the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, agricultural land in San Bernardino County outside of the Chino Valley was being converted to residential, commercial and, to a lesser extent, industrial use. In the 1950s, Chino, which was already a respectable agrarian district, saw its status as a dairyland intensify as dairymen made their exodus from places such as Torrance and Anaheim because of encroaching urbanization there, camping down instead in the Chino Valley. As wave upon wave of dairy farmers, many of Dutch or Portuguese descent, brought their herds in, the Chino Valley became the source for most of Southern California’s milk as well as a major supplier of cheese for a much larger geographical area. In 1968, the Chino Agricultural Preserve was formed under the auspices of California’s Williamson Act — a 1965 law that was intended to preserve California farmland and to serve as a hedge against urban sprawl. The law granted substantial tax breaks to property owners agreeing to restrict their land to agricultural uses for at least 10 years. By the late 1980s, a number of Chino Valley dairymen sold their property to those looking to develop it, moving their herds elsewhere, such as to Tulare and Merced counties or Idaho, or simply selling their cows to other dairies in the area. By the mid-1990s, the breakup of the Chino Ag Preserve was in full swing. Today, there are some 55 or so dairies in Chino on a mere fraction of the once-proud 17,000-acre Ag Preserve confines where in 1976 there were just under 400 dairies and 400,000 cows and $800 million in annual dairy production.
The Inland Empire Utilities Agency, often referred to by its acronym IEUA, was originally known as the Chino Basin Municipal Water District when it was formed in 1950 by a popular vote of its residents to become a member agency of the Metropolitan Water District for the purpose of importing water. Since the 1990s, approximately 90 percent of the Inland Empire Utilities Agency’s service area water demands have come from residential and industrial users with approximately 10 percent from agricultural users. Overall urban water demand has increased by approximately 20 percent since 1995, despite a regional growth of 30 percent, equal to approximately 200,000 additional residents. Over those 23 years, more efficient irrigation and indoor fixtures and conservation consciousness has reduced per capita water use. An effort to reduce water use in response to California’s 2012-2016 drought also resulted in water use restrictions that lessened, to a minor degree, water demands. Nevertheless, in a countywide service review pertaining to the provision of water that was completed and submitted to the San Bernardino County Local Agency Formation Commission in July 2017, it was acknowledged that San Bernardino County annually utilizes more water than is replenished into its aquifers on a yearly basis. That review states “One-third of the water distributed by IEUA’s member agencies is imported water from Metropolitan. Recognizing the limitation on imported water supplies caused by drought conditions and environmental restrictions, a key business goal for IEUA is to ‘drought proof’ the region by developing local supplies and maximizing groundwater recharge. IEUA and its member agencies have been able to increase the local supply of water by 33 percent through the construction of recycling plants and piping, new catch basins, and desalting plants.”
Further, according to the review, “The population within the study area increased 23% from 1990 to 2000. Interestingly, the population within the study area grew at a lesser rate of 16% from 2000 to 2010 during the construction boom. The 2015 estimated population was 856,168.”
In 1990 the population of the IEUA service area was 569,490. In 2000 the population of the Inland Empire Utilities Agency service area was 701,527. In 2010 the population of the IEUA service area was 814,210. In 2015 the population of the Inland Empire Utilities Agency service area was 856,168.
In 2020 the population of the IEUA service area is projected to be 896,533. In 2030 the population of the Inland Empire Utilities Agency service area is projected to be 1,009,349. In 2040 the population of the IEUA service area is projected to be 1,125,203
The Local Agency Formation Commission’s water service report states, “The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California lacks sphere of influence within San Bernardino County. Metropolitan is a special district subject to LAFCO purview. Therefore, San Bernardino LAFCO is obligated to establish a sphere of influence.” That document then offers the recommendation to “Initiate the establishment of a sphere of influence for Metropolitan within San Bernardino County to be coterminous with the sphere of its
member agency, Inland Empire Utilities Agency.”
Historically throughout its existence, the Metropolitan Water District has functioned within San Bernardino County without interference and without administrative complication. This is acknowledged in the Local Agency Formation Commission Report, which states, “Metropolitan has never had an established sphere of influence within San Bernardino County.”
Despite this more than 70 years of functionality, the Local Agency Formation Commission report states, “Metropolitan is a special district that is subject to LAFCO purview. Therefore LAFCO is obligated to establish a sphere of influence for the district. Technically, no changes of organization should be processed for any affected agency within a reorganization area lacking a sphere of influence. Metropolitan staff has identified support for a sphere establishment within San Bernardino County to be coterminous with the sphere of influence of its member agency, IEUA.”
In addition to recommending the expansion of the Metropolitan Water District’s sphere of influence to match the Inland Empire Utilities Agency boundaries, the Local Agency Formation Commission called for that sphere also including some 17 parcels and roads where the Metropolitan Water District is imposing a standby charge on land or water users in the southwestern portion of San Bernardino County. This brings the total area of MWD’s sphere of influence in San Bernardino County to 292 square miles.
The Local Agency Formation Commission report does not clearly specify what advantage accrues to the residents living within the Inland Empire Utilities Agency’s service area from officializing the Metropolitan Water Agency’s sway over the southeastern portion of San Bernardino County. The closest the Local Agency Formation Commission report gets to making a justification for moving the 292 square mile area into the Metropolitan Water District’s sphere of influence comes on pages 6 and 10 of the staff report.
On page 6 of the staff report, Local Agency Formation Commission Executive Director Kathleen Rollings-McDonald wrote, “A sphere of influence is defined by Government Code Section 56076 as ‘a plan for the probable physical boundaries and service area of a local agency as determined by the commission.’ This commission in its policies related to assignment of a sphere of influence has indicated the purpose is ‘to encourage economical use and extension of facilities by assisting governmental agencies in planning the logical and economical extension of governmental facilities and services, thereby avoiding duplication of services’ and ‘to promote coordination of cooperative planning efforts.’”
On page 10, Rollings-McDonald indicated the rational for the change was administrative and procedural rather than of practical physical or financial benefit. “The Metropolitan sphere establishment, being a planning tool, would work in concert with the Metropolitan mission, IEUA mission, and Metropolitan and IEUA planning documents,” Rollings-McDonald stated. Rollings-McDonald footnoted that “The mission of the Metropolitan is to provide its service area with adequate and reliable supplies of high-quality water to meet present and future needs in an environmentally and economically responsible way. The IEUA mission is [a commitment to] meeting the needs of the region by providing essential services in a regionally planned and cost effective manner while safeguarding public health, promoting economic development and protecting the environment.”
Historically, entities and interests in Los Angeles County have coveted San Bernardino County’s water and have engaged in a variety of efforts to commandeer water rights to allow that water to be diverted for use in Los Angeles, or near the coast within Los Angeles and Orange counties.
San Bernardino County Local Agency Formation Commission officials effectuated the transfer of the 292 square miles into the Metropolitan Water Agency’s sphere of influence very quietly, carrying the action out at the LAFCO board’s January 17 meeting, which was only sparsely attended. Staff and council members with the cities of Chino Hills, Chino, Montclair, Ontario, Upland and Rancho Cucamonga did not know about it even after it had occurred, and staff members/directors with the Monte Vista Water District and the San Antonio Heights Water Company were not apprised of the action until just before or after it took place. Nor did the Sentinel receive notice of the pending action prior to the hearing and vote on the matter.
Now, with the Metropolitan Water District’s assumption of the sphere of influence in San Bernardino County, there is growing concern that a significant portion of autonomy over water issues and water availability in and around San Bernardino County’s six southwestern cities has been surrendered to an entity in many ways inimical to San Bernardino County and its residents.
LAFCO Board Member James Curatalo, an elected member of the Cucamonga Valley Water District and currently that panel’s board president, told the Sentinel that alarm over the move was misplaced.
“This change was only administrative,” he said. “That sphere of influence for the MWD should have overlaid the boundaries of IEUA decades and decades ago. For some reason that wasn’t done way back when. It was left out. When we [the San Bernardino County Local Agency Formation Commission] did a service review last July that looked at how water issues are handled in all of the districts, we discovered the discrepancy. They [the MWD] provide water to my district and all of these other districts. That will continue to happen. Nothing really changes. There’s no ‘gotcha’ here. This is basic governance and following the law. People think they can see shadows in it, but this is pretty routine. There’s nothing sinister. We’re just making things compliant with the law.”
Rollings-McDonald said providing the Metropolitan Water District with the sphere of influence over Chino Hills, Chino, Montclair, Ontario, Guasti, Upland, San Antonio Heights, Rancho Cucamonga and some unincorporated county areas on the peripheries of Fontana and Rialto simply equated “to a planning tool to plan for the delivery of services.” She said that leaving the area in question outside the sphere of influence of the Metropolitan Water District “was an oversight.” She said that “MWD brings a benefit to the area in terms of the distribution of supplemental Colorado River water to the region” and that this will continue to be the case in the aftermath of documenting the 292 square miles as within the MWD’s sphere of influence. “None of that is changed through the granting of the sphere of influence.”
Terry Catlin served on the IEUA board from 1996 until 2016, in the capacity of president for several terms, and was involved in the Santa Ana Watershed Authority. Since 2004 he has been the general manager of the 81 million-gallon-per-day water treatment facility operated by a joint powers agency consisting of the Cities of Chino, Chino Hills, Ontario, Upland and Monte Vista Water District. “Based on my initial analysis, Chino Hills, Chino, the Monte Vista Water District, Ontario and Upland, Cucamonga Valley Water District etc. are already receiving Met water, so I don’t see how there is any further benefit to these local jurisdiction by the action that LAFCO has taken,” said Catlin. “In practice, MWD already, and for decades, operated a ‘sphere of influence’ in the west portion of SBC coterminous with the service area of Inland Empire Utilities Agency. IEUA is a member agency of MWD and, as such, is able to provide supplemental water supplies, imported water from the State Water Project, purchased from MWD to serve local municipalities within the IEUA service area. This portion of imported water supply represents approximately +30% of the retail water supply portfolio in the IEUA service area and is necessary for supplementing local, primarily groundwater, supplies to meet demand. This imported supply also provides blending for water quality improvements in certain areas.”
Catlin continued, “I believe that the LAFCO action was primarily driven by the finding in the July Water Service Review that MWD did not have a sphere of influence established in San Bernardino County, at least for the portion of the MWD service area that extends into San Bernardino County by its service through IEUA. I don’t believe that the action gives MWD any more influence in San Bernardino County than it already conveys through IEUA. IEUA and local municipalities are sensitive to the “300-pound gorilla” (MWD) in the room and would ‘push back’ or protest if they thought MWD was attempting to expand its powers into their localities, desiring to preserve local control. I believe the action to be a ‘housekeeping’/administrative issue.”
By Mark Gutglueck