Water Conservation District & Utilities Agency Merger Afoot

The San Bernardino County’s Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) will hold a public hearing on September 16 at which it will consider a recommendation by LAFCO staff that the Chino Basin Water Conservation District’s “sphere of influence” be conformed with that of Inland Empire Utilities Agency (IEUA).
Neither the conservation district nor the utilities agency has requested the change. The recommendation was generated within the LAFCO office after a service review was carried out. The option is being presented to the board as a consequence of the findings of that service review but also as a follow up on a previous move to dissolve the Chino Basin Water Conservation District, which employs nine, and incorporate its functions into IEUA, which employs 285. More than a half decade ago, LAFCO staff recommended that continuing the level of service with regard to water conservation in West Valley would best be achieved by the Chino Basin Water Conservation District being consolidated into the Inland Empire Utilities Agency. The conservation district’s board opposed that option.
The full consolidation effort has not been revived. Instead on September 16 the Local Agency Formation Commission board will consider expanding the water conservation district’s sphere of influence to be “coterminous” with that of IEUA, or expanding the sphere of influence to include the whole of the Chino Groundwater Basin within San Bernardino County, or eliminating the water conservation district’s sphere of influence entirely.
The first of those three options is perceived as some as a way of getting the camel’s nose under the tent so that folding the Chino Water Conservation District into the IEUA can take place eventually.
The Chino Basin Water Conservation District’s board is amenable to having the district’s sphere of influence made “coterminous” with that of IEUA. A sphere of influence is considered to be the geographical area into which an entity, functioning within certain jurisdictional boundaries or a service area, is most logically set to extend into in the future. A sphere of influence is not the same as a current service area.
The Chino Basin Water Conservation District is supported by property taxes collected within the district and it undertakes to promote water conservation through public education and practical limits on water use within its boundaries. The district’s board is intent on promoting water conservation within the larger context of the west end of San Bernardino County and thus is not averse to sharing the same territory with the Inland Empire Utilities Agency, but it does not want to lose its independence.
The Inland Empire Utilities Agency’s first order of business is the provision of sewer services and the recycling of water within its service area but has not been a leading advocate of water conservation.
According to Kathy Besser, the manager of external affairs for IEUA, her agency has not taken a position on the options to be considered by LAFCO on September 16. With regard to the option to have the water conservation district’s boundaries expanded to match those of the utilities agency, she said it was unclear if such a move was to set up a future absorption of the water conservation district by her agency. “I don’t know if it is a precursor for anything,” she said. “Their operations are funded by property tax collected inside their boundaries and they can’t spend money for services outside their boundaries. Our board has not taken a position on it. We feel it is important for us to continue to offer the same level of service we now have.”
Besser said her agency sometimes contracts with the water conservation district for water conservation education programs.
She noted that a proposal went to LAFCO “several years ago which recommended consolidation between us and them but the commission did not support it.”
She said that the LAFCO board and staff have a comprehensive understanding of how local agencies and entities fit together and that the IEUA “will support whatever decision LAFCO makes.”

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