The 10th Annual San Bernardino County Water Conference hosted by the Baldy View Chapter of Building Industry Association, held Friday at the Ontario Convention Center, was a combination of looking forward and looking back.
Several speakers told the crowd of over 300 people that the county has done an admirable job of managing its water resources since 2007, the year of the first conference, while also dealing with one of the worst droughts in California’s history.
On the other hand, the drought is not over. Water district officials were admonished during a breakout session that they can no longer be the quiet, nondescript public agencies that they were for years, that they must get the message out regarding how important an issue water has become.
“The last 10 years have been quite a ride,” said Kirby Brill, general manager of the Mojave Water Agency, during a panel discussion on the county’s water policies and practices during the last nine years. “The economy collapsed, we’ve had to deal with a terrible drought, but we’ve still made a lot of progress.
“We’ve accomplished a lot, in terms of water management and conservation, just by working together.”
The state’s conservation efforts, though largely successful, have caused some unusual problems that are not going away soon, said Mark Norton, water resources and planning manager with the Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority.
Californians are using less water, which means water districts are ordering less water, but those districts still have operating costs that keep climbing. That means some districts are having to raise rates even thought their customers are cutting their water use.
“We’re in a new normal,” Norton said. “Everyone has to adjust.”
In this case, adjusting means explaining how complicated it is to deliver water, and why the drought has made water the state’s number one issue, said Lou Desmond, president of Desmond & Louis Inc., a public relations firm based in Yucaipa.
“You have to get your message out, and you have to do it in a way that isn’t boring but that people still understand it,” said Desmond, who spoke with Norton on a panel that discussed how water officials can best communicate with the public on difficult issues, like charging people more when they’re using less water.
“Water is now a huge issue, it’s on TV and radio and in the newspapers every day,” Desmond said. “The good news is there’s a news cycle that you can take advantage of.”