Development adjacent to San Jacinto Wildlife Area could be a huge benefit, if…
By JIM MATTHEWS
The state Department of Fish and Wildlife has one final chance.
The Riverside County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to make a final determination on whether or not to allow Lewis Homes to proceed with The Villages of Lakeview development on 2,883 acres immediately south of the San Jacinto Wildlife Area. The board’s Planning Commission approved the development Oct. 14 after the plan was modified in an attempt to address concerns about the massive project.
Final approval of the 3,000-plus home development plan, which will be home to around 25,000 people at full build-out, is likely at the 1:30 p.m., Nov. 14 meeting of the Board of Supervisors.
Early in the process, the DFW could have won some major concessions from the developer and county staff. The biggest and simplest one was funding for reclaimed water through Home Owners Association (HOA) annual fees mandated as part of each home or business sold within the development.
Water is the life-blood of the wildlife area, but its management staff never advanced this one simple proposal to the developer or county that would have solved the wildlife area’s biggest single problem today (and an ever-increasing problem in the future): funding for a consistent, affordable water supply.
Instead the DFW staff brought up piddley concerns easily addressed or dismissed, all the while knowing that the development was going to happen. After 15 years of planning and millions of dollars spent on land acquisitions, the development was a foregone conclusion.
Getting valuable mitigation that will benefit the wildlife area and enhance its value for wildlife and users was the big question mark.
So the DFW has one final chance to advance the water solution on Nov. 14 to the Board of Supervisors.
As background, San Jacinto’s lifeblood is reclaimed water from the Eastern Municipal Water District (EMWD) in Perris. In 1987, the Department of Fish and Wildlife negotiated a deal “for the life of the project” (which means as long as San Jacinto exists as a wildlife area) for 4,500-acre feet of reclaimed water per year. Over the past decade the wildlife area has only used about 2,200-acre feet per year, and the value of reclaimed water has skyrocketed. The DFW is foolishly renegotiating the original deal, abiding by one-year extensions since 2015 that allowed the use of no more than 3,100-acre feet of reclaimed water. It has essentially already given away 1,400-acre feet of water.
Even with recent expansions to the wildlife area, the reality is that San Jacinto has stopped expanding its wetlands and ponded areas because of a lack of water. This is because of DFW contract bungling. Loss of a permanent water supply because of DFW’s inability to force the EMWD abide by the original 4,500-acre feet per year contract is an ongoing disaster.
DFW incompetence is a far bigger threat to the wildlife area’s future than development.
So this is an important fact: At full buildout, the Lewis Homes’ development will create 1,900 more acre feet of reclaimed water processed by the EMWD each year. Earmarking that reclaimed water for the San Jacinto Wildlife Area would be a simple and creative way for the developers, county, and DFW to take credit for a creative solution to help maintain and enhance the water supply for San Jacinto.
Imagine if the DFW actually had its original allotment of 4,500 acre feet of water, and that a big chunk of its purchase was funded locally through HOA fees.
The DFW has one final chance to make this dream happen.
[Jim Matthews is a syndicated Southern California-based outdoor reporter and columnist. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 909-887-3444.]