As California’s rainfall continues to vary widely from lengthy droughts to periods of heavy rains and flooding, water agencies in Fontana, the Inland Empire and Orange County must work together to protect the region’s water supply.

That was the recurring theme for nearly 300 water industry professionals from throughout the state who attended a conference on the future of the Santa Ana River Watershed at the Ontario Convention Center on May 25.

Participants heard about the importance of the watershed -- which provides water for six million people from the San Bernardino Mountains to Newport Beach -- and how integrated water management among various local, regional, state and federal agencies can help improve and protect the quality and reliability of this local water supply.

“As technology improves, we are learning more about where our water comes from and how it is actually being used,” said Martha Davis, executive manager for the Inland Empire Utilities Agency, which serves Fontana. “One of the major findings of recent data is that we are seeing how individual actions multiplied many times can make our watershed more resilient.”

San Bernardino County Fourth District Supervisor Curt Hagman opened the conference, which was cosponsored by the Water Education Foundation and the Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority (SAWPA).

“We are here today to learn about and discuss tools to develop a more resilient watershed,” said Susan Lien-Longville, chair of the SAWPA board and the San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District board.

Newsha Ajami, director of urban water policy at Stanford, said that, in addition to climate change, California and other western states face other major challenges to their water supplies, including population growth, more and stricter water quality and environmental regulations, and aging infrastructure.

“These changes are happening faster than we can catch up,” Ajami said. “We need to rethink our approaches to water supply, demand and governance.”

She added that water agencies also need to rethink how they educate the public.

“Your relationship with your customers is changing; they are becoming more active, rather than passive, users,” she said. “They are part of the process now, and need to be brought into the discussion of how you manage and protect this important water source.”

That includes engaging with under-represented and overburdened communities, according to several of the speakers.

“Water has to be affordable, as well as safe,” said Steve Moore, vice chair of the State Water Resources Board (SWRCB), who serves as the agency’s liaison to the region.

Fellow SWRCB Board Member Joaquin Esquivel of La Quinta added, “Our goal is to democratize water, and bring diverse communities, voices and perspectives together.”

Other panels included presentations and discussions on regional water projects, advances in use of data and technology to measure water sources and usage, interagency programs to maximize water use and reuse, and new sources of funding for water projects.

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