Murrieta City Council learns Southern California is still in a water crisis despite recond rain and snow

A Rancho California Water District presentation to the Murrieta City Council about the recent record breaking rain and snowfall, that is bringing California out of the drought, still warns the state is not out of the woods.

“We are not even close to it,” Robert Grantham of Rancho California Water District said in his presentation to the council. “It’s been a great year and winter for me, ‘It’s raining.’ The precipitation has been phenomenal, and the increase in snow levels and an increase in our state reservoirs… But as much as I want to say ‘we are out of the woods,’ we are not even close to it.”

Grantham explained that all or most of the water received in California is from the Colorado River.

“And last year it was nearly dry,” he said. “Which (the Colorado River) is a critical supply for our infrastructure. We like Northern California water but here in Riverside, the Colorado River is our only supply of water. The Colorado River is under extreme stress.”

He said they now hope that Southern California can somehow tap into the now abundant Northern California water, but that is still only “a hope.”

He said the area has the nearby Diamond Valley Lake which is good, but limited. He explained the steps RCWD and the other four surrounding water districts are doing to build up their own water supplies to overcome any droughts.

“We really work well together,” he said.

He praised the engagement that Murrieta and the other valley communities have done to help conserve the water in the years of the drought and their advocacy to conserve more. He said the districts are now working together in resource planning and investments for future water supplies. He pointed out that the communities have reduced their water use by nearly 50% in the last 15 or 20 years.

“That’s amazing,” he said. “Thank you to the Murrieta community.”

He said the districts, however, can’t keep the water flowing themselves; they must rely on investment partnerships with the state and federal governments. He said to help the districts in Murrieta had launched a program called “Temecula and Murrieta in Bloom,” with a recent $500,000 state and federal grant. It will help the communities find ways to plant the most drought tolerant plants and grasses. It will help bring in “My water tractor” to help people find water leaks in their properties.

He said the local water managers recently met with Gov. Gavin Newsom in Sacramento to apprise him of water needs in Southern California and received a “favorable ear.” He said hoped that some legislation proposed to help solve the water crisis in Southern California will help Sacramento “put its foot to the fire,” for good results.

“And we are in a water crisis,” Grantham said.

The council heard a presentation about the project called “Murrieta Through Time,” that will place eight permanent granite based obelisks with photos and text about the complete history of the city in Town Square Park. Cardboard mockups of what the large granite stones with litho photos and engraved text will look like when complete was shown to the council members. The Murrieta Through Time project the presenters from the Menifee Rotary Club won the praise of the members.

Ward Andrews, superintendent of the Murrieta Valley Unified School District, thanked the council for their support of the local schools that number 19 with 22,500 students and have 4,500 employees. He said most of the employees live within the city and surrounding areas and help in its economy as the city’s second largest employer.

The council in its regular business held a public hearing on the latest efforts to meet the newest requirements of California’s Senate Bill 1383 that now requires residents to separate their organic wastes from their regular trash bins and now drop them into a thirrd container with the other green waste. The net result of the state mandate goes into effect Saturday, April 1, and will result in all residents receiving an additional $2.79 rate increase on their monthly trash bills coming from Waste Management bringing their total bill to $28.54. Commercial and Industrial customers will not be charged the extra fee as they are already under another program.

The additional cost is considered a fee and not a tax increase, yet if not paid will be placed on the annual property tax bill to be collected for the trash company and if not paid,can result in a lien placed on the property until paid.

In a public comment, former Murrieta Councilmember Warnie Enochs argued it was still a tax and should have been voted upon by the residents. He saw it as a violation of California Proposition 283 the people wanted to have a vote on any tax increases.

Other public comments had several residents questioning what the extra costs will pay for learning it becomes an extra cost to transport the wastes to be separated in different locations.

The council, while seeing it necessary to approve the fee increase because it was an unfunded state mandate – one of many, voted to approve the increase by a 4 to 1 vote with Mayor Pro Tem Lori Stone voting no.

“I am extremely frustrated with the unfunded mandates that are coming down from the state of California that are on the backs of the residents,” Stone said. “When to we stand up and say ‘enough is enough.’”

Councilmember Cindy Warren in a question on the added cost for older adults who are on fixed incomes learned Waste Management has smaller lower cost bins available for them if they apply for them.

Councilmember Ron Holiday asked what can the state do if it refuses the mandate and learned from the city attorney it could end with a fine of $10,000 per day if it is not followed. He saw that as too costly for the city to pay, casting a yes vote.

Councilmember Jon Levell said he was concerned that putting the organic food waste with the green waste would bring pests to homes and apartments and would defeat the purpose of putting the two things together. He too said he was frustrated with the state mandate.

The council tabled a request by Stone for a legislative advocacy trip expenses of $1,100 to go to Sacramento until further discussion can be made with the city’s current legislative analyst and advocate and more council members possibly going to the state capitol to voice their opinion on legislation being proposed. It will be revisited at the next regular meeting.

Tony Ault can be reached by email at

Tony Ault