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San Diego County Water Authority Board of Directors Chair Jim Madaffer-primary-View from the Chair

Jim Madaffer: Supporting Protections for Ratepayers and Property Owners

I hope this finds you safe and healthy despite the challenging circumstances that we face as a region, state and nation.

While our hearts are heavy, we continue working on several critical issues at the Water Authority this month, and I would like to share three of them with you briefly.

  1. The Water Authority’s Board of Directors on May 28 voted to support a comprehensive evaluation of the impacts of detachment proposals by the Rainbow and Fallbrook water districts to ensure that ratepayers and property owners in those districts and the rest of the county are protected from potential impacts and given a meaningful opportunity to engage in the process. That evaluation – under development by the San Diego County Local Agency Formation Commission, or LAFCO – should cover financial, water supply reliability, governmental, and environmental impacts, and it should ensure that the public and all affected agencies across the region can weigh in, according to the Water Authority Board resolution. I encourage you to read the entire resolution at www.sdcwa.org/lafco-detachment.
  2. Our Board has set a public hearing on 2021 rates and charges on June 25. As you know, this has been a very rough stretch financially for almost every business and agency – and water utilities are no exception. Staff has proposed a strategy that would raise the rates we charge our member agencies by about 6 percent next year. That recommendation is the result of cost-cutting, using our Rate Stabilization Fund and other measures. It’s a thoughtful and careful proposal, and I’m expecting our Board will have robust discussion before voting on this issue that affects us all.
  3. On the financial front, we are also doing our part to attract more state and federal economic stimulus funds for a long list of shovel-ready water projects. The Water Authority has coordinated a letter from several water agencies asking Congress for COVID-19 financial relief for public water utilities and ratepayers. At the same time, I am pleased to announce that several regional water supply projects in San Diego County are on track to receive a total of more than $15 million in state grant funds, pending a final decision this summer. The money would help local agencies advance conservation, environmental enhancements, water purification and other initiatives.

As always, I will continue to update you on these critical issues and others in the weeks ahead.

View From The Chair represents the viewpoints of Jim Madaffer, Chair of the San Diego County Water Authority Board of Directors.
San Diego County Water Authority Board of Directors Chair Jim Madaffer-primary-View from the Chair

Jim Madaffer: We’re Here For You

Today, I have a special project to share with you that we have been working on with our member agencies across San Diego County.

Since the pandemic started, the region’s water and wastewater agencies have collaborated closely to ensure that these vital services remain fully functional. After all, they are the foundation of both emergency response and recovery.

The utility heroes on the front lines are meter readers, plant operators, accountants, engineers and many others in every corner of our county who help to ensure the continued delivery of safe, clean drinking water for our homes and businesses. For the most part, these public servants work behind the scenes – but a short new video shows several of them at their posts, where they perform essential work from their homes and in the field.

Click here to watch this 60-second message from our colleagues that ends with one key phrase: We’re here for you. I hope it inspires you as much as it inspires me. And a special thank you to all our water professionals for continuing to do what you do day-in and day-out!

On a related note, as California starts to move toward re-opening its economy, the Water Authority is making responsible, careful and flexible plans to return to more “normal” operating conditions. However, we are in no rush; our teams quickly adapted to remote work and it is paramount that we avoid creating more complications by moving too quickly in these uncertain times. At least for May, our Board meeting will again be held remotely. You can watch it here on Thursday, May 28.

I also want to share my appreciation for efforts by state Senate President pro Tem Toni Atkins of San Diego to advance immediate action on economic recovery and creative solutions to jump-start California’s economy without exacerbating already challenging fiscal conditions. The Water Authority looks forward to partnering with the state to move forward on shovel-ready water and energy infrastructure projects that can help California’s economic recovery gain traction.

View From The Chair represents the viewpoints of Jim Madaffer, Chair of the San Diego County Water Authority Board of Directors.
San Diego County Water Authority Board of Directors Chair Jim Madaffer-primary-View from the Chair

Jim Madaffer: Strategic Steps to Address Emerging Fiscal Realities

Across the country, public agencies are scrambling to fill holes created by the pandemic – financial holes and, worse yet, holes in the workforce. It is safe to assume, until a vaccine is developed or an antibody treatment is found, we are living the new normal.

As we hope and pray that the worst days of the coronavirus are behind us, I am so thankful that the Water Authority took aggressive early action to protect employees and that we have had no COVID-related illnesses. I’m also grateful to report that our region’s water treatment and delivery systems are in good shape, and that they continue to provide clean, safe drinking water 24/7 due to the efforts of a few thousand employees of the Water Authority and its 24 member agencies. These dedicated public servants are doing their jobs day and night, despite numerous personal and logistical challenges.

That said, our region’s water agencies are collectively facing serious declines in revenues; businesses are not using water as expected, which means water sales have plummeted. Unlike some other industries, most of our costs are fixed. In fact, the Water Authority’s operating departments only account for about 6 percent of the budget.

This means that even when water sales drop, we still must pay the “mortgage” on the system – from pumps to pipes to filtration and whatever other costs we cannot control, such as increases from our water suppliers or higher costs for energy and treatment chemicals. For instance, we expect the Los Angeles-based Metropolitan Water District of Southern California to raise rates in San Diego County by more than 7 percent in 2021 despite our pleas for relief on your behalf.

Details about the financial impact of coronavirus will take weeks or months to emerge, but the Water Authority is already taking proactive steps to address anticipated challenges, from instituting a hiring freeze to assessing which non-essential projects and expenses can be deferred. I assure you that we are working every day to sustain our core mission to maintain the many values that we provide our region and make smart choices to ensure our long-term viability.

It is not an easy task, but we have 75 years of history that say we can do this together – and I know we will.

On a hopeful note, the region’s water agencies have joined forces to raise thousands of dollars for the Jacobs & Cushman San Diego Food Bank through voluntary donations by board members and employees. We’re always looking for opportunities to raise more money given the ongoing significance of the need. Click here to donate – and do not forget to share the link with family, friends and others who may want to participate. Every dollar helps feed those in need.

View From The Chair represents the viewpoints of Jim Madaffer, Chair of the San Diego County Water Authority Board of Directors.
San Diego County Water Authority Board of Directors Chair Jim Madaffer-primary-View from the Chair

Jim Madaffer: Adjusting to the New Normal

As we adjust to the new – and hopefully temporary – realities of this pandemic, it’s worth reflecting on the good that is happening in our community, our state and our nation.

  • Doctors and nurses are bravely treating the sick by the thousands.
  • Grocery store employees are working long hours to stock shelves and serve customers.
  • Restaurants are evolving to offer takeout, and customers are showing up to support them.
  • Houses of worship are meeting remotely.
  • Companies are transitioning to make ventilators, sanitizers and other products that are so necessary.

Of course, food banks are also doing tremendous work to support residents who are suddenly without a paycheck. That’s why the Board leadership of the San Diego County Water Authority is joining regional efforts to fight the economic impacts of the pandemic by setting up a virtual food drive in partnership with the San Diego Food Bank.

The San Diego Food Bank helps feed hundreds of thousands of hungry people each year – and the numbers are growing rapidly. The Water Authority’s virtual food drive allows donors to select and purchase items such as canned meats, fruits, peanut butter and oatmeal for distribution to needy residents. Click here to donate – and don’t forget to share the link with family, friends and others who may want to participate.

I’ve heard it said that true colors come through during a crisis, which is why I’m proud to report that our regional efforts to safeguard our water supplies have generated substantial regional and even national attention in recent days. Click here for a great story by 10News San Diego.

We’re going to keep it up as long as needed to beat this thing.

View From The Chair represents the viewpoints of Jim Madaffer, Chair of the San Diego County Water Authority Board of Directors.
San Diego County Water Authority Board of Directors Chair Jim Madaffer-primary-View from the Chair

Jim Madaffer: Supporting Our Community in Challenging Times

Coronavirus is on all our minds these days, with the countless challenges that we face at every level of society, including our homes and families.

While there are many uncertainties, I want to assure you that the Water Authority and its 24 member agencies are doing everything possible to address this complex situation, from following health and safety protocols to ensuring the continued operation of the water treatment and delivery system regardless of the challenges.

Public water supplies in the San Diego region remain safe to drink due to robust standard treatment processes by local and regional water providers. Drinking water provided by the Water Authority and its member agencies is treated by a combination of technologies – including sedimentation, filtration and disinfection – that chemically deactivate and physically remove bacteria, viruses and other contaminants. The U.S. EPA recommends that Americans continue to use and drink tap water as usual.

To support continued operation of critical infrastructure, the Water Authority has activated its Emergency Operations Center, increasing the region’s ability to respond to any challenges that emerge. The EOC supports the need for enhanced communication between the Water Authority and its member agencies as the public health crisis evolves. In addition, the agencies have back-up plans to assist each other should key personnel be unable to work.

We’ve taken other operational steps as well. Agency employees identified as critical to operation and maintenance of key infrastructure will continue to report to work and conduct normal job functions while complying with enhanced safety precautions such as social distancing measures. Non-critical staff at many agencies, including the Water Authority, are telecommuting or will begin remote work shortly to minimize the potential for virus transmission.

Of course, we will continue to monitor this situation closely and make strategic decisions to support our community in these difficult times. I will update you periodically, and we will keep information on our website – www.sdcwa.org – current as the situation evolves.

View From The Chair represents the viewpoints of Jim Madaffer, Chair of the San Diego County Water Authority Board of Directors.
San Diego County Water Authority Board Chairman Mark Muir. Photo: Water Authority Historic water deal

Historic Water Deal Provides Less Expensive, More Reliable Supplies

A historic achievement for the San Diego region passed almost unnoticed when the San Diego County Water Authority’s Board of Directors adopted new wholesale water rates in late June.

The rate-setting process highlighted how the Water Authority’s independent water supplies from the Colorado River are now both less expensive and more reliable than supplies from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. It’s an accomplishment that the region’s water officials started working toward two decades ago, and one that will bear fruit for decades to come.

The value of our independent water supplies will grow in coming years given the rapid increases in MWD’s rates, which have risen far faster than the cost of the Water Authority’s Colorado River supplies secured in 2003 through a complex, multi-state pact known as the Quantification Settlement Agreement.

Historic agreeement secures San Diego economy and quality of life

From the start, that landmark deal helped secure our economy and quality of life by giving us a major new source of water with a higher priority – or legal right – to Colorado River water than MWD. The agreement allowed the Water Authority to transfer increasingly large amounts of conserved water from the Imperial Valley to San Diego, so that by 2020 it will meet about half of our region’s projected water demand.

That visionary agreement also minimized the impact of MWD’s water delivery cutbacks during the past two droughts. In 2015, for example, MWD reduced water deliveries by 15 percent, but the Water Authority’s independent supplies meant we had enough water to meet 99 percent of normal demand.

While the supply benefits of the conservation-and-transfer agreement have long been clear, the region is just now starting to feel the cost benefits as well.

Here’s why: At the start, our independent Colorado River supplies were more expensive than MWD water. However, the cost of the Water Authority’s independent Colorado River supplies is controlled by a contract linked to the rate of inflation, which means those costs are rising far more slowly than MWD’s rates and charges.

Millions in savings achieved

In addition, the Water Authority has benefited from lawsuits that forced MWD to drop illegal charges for delivering our independent Colorado River supplies. A 2017 appellate court ruling netted the Water Authority about $15 million in savings in 2019, with tens of millions of additional savings in years to come.

The combined effect is that the Water Authority’s independent Colorado River supplies are less expensive than MWD supplies by $44 per acre-foot this year. In 2019, the difference will grow to $68 per acre-foot, and in 2020 our independent supplies are projected to be less expensive by $121 per acre-foot.

That’s worth celebrating because it means regional wholesale water rate increases in 2019 are among the lowest in 15 years – a testament to the all those who have worked for decades to secure a safe, reliable and cost-effective water supply for everyone who calls this place home.

 

San Diego County Water Authority Board Chairman Mark Muir. Photo: Water Authority Historic water deal

Everything in San Diego County is Brought to You by Water

We’ve got a great thing going here in San Diego County, from the mountains to the coast and from the far northern reaches of our region to the international border.

Our economy is strong – one of the largest in the nation – with everything from global giants to startups trying to make a splash. We’ve got the most small farms of any county in the country and innovative industries that put us on the map.

And our quality of life is second to none. People come from all over the world to play here and stay here. They come for our attractions, our beer, our climate and everything else this great region offers.

That makes me proud to call this place home. And it reminds me that none of this would be possible without one key ingredient: a safe and reliable water supply.

Sufficient water supplies required for San Diego’s advanced economy

Think about it: We get just 10 inches of rain a year at Lindbergh Field. That’s not enough to sustain even a small fraction of what we do here day in and day out. In fact, the last time our natural water resources were sufficient for San Diego County was 1946.

At the time, San Diego was just at the start of its renaissance, first as a center of military operations, and later as one of the largest, most vibrant metropolitan areas in the nation.

Today, we boast an advanced economy that’s still a key military hub, and also a center of manufacturing, brewing, tourism, agriculture and so much else.

There are lots of reasons for our collective success, but none more foundational than steady and sufficient water supplies. Water is critical for developing new smart phone technology, next-generation medicines, high-tech military ships and world-class guitars and banjos. And the list goes on.

That’s where the San Diego County Water Authority and its 24 member agencies come in. Together, we secure, treat and deliver this vital resource 24/7/365.

We do it in pioneering and innovative ways, like new and enlarged reservoirs and the nation’s largest seawater desalination plant. We also work the front lines of water-use efficiency with rebates and resources to stretch every drop, because we appreciate the value of the region’s investments in safe and reliable water supplies.

So, every time you slice an avocado on your salad, use your smartphone for directions to the Gaslamp, watch your kid hit a home run on a Little League field, or stroll the tree-lined trails of Balboa Park, remember that this San Diego life is Brought to You by Water.

For more on the Water Authority’s Brought to You by Water program, go to https://b2ubyh2o.org/.

San Diego County Water Authority Board Chairman Mark Muir. Photo: Water Authority Historic water deal

Water Tax Proposal Remains Poor Policy

Like a bad penny, a plan to tax water keeps turning up in Sacramento.

That’s right: under two proposals circulating in the Capitol, California would start taxing the most fundamental resource on the planet. Such taxes would needlessly drive up costs for families already struggling to make ends meet and undermine the very goals that proponents profess.

Senate Bill 623 by state Sen. William Monning (Carmel) and a budget trailer bill supported by Governor Brown would add a tax to local residential and business water bills in the name of providing safe, clean drinking water to disadvantaged communities, mostly in the Central Valley.

There’s no question that some Californians in low-income, rural areas don’t enjoy the same level of safe drinking water delivered by the San Diego County Water Authority and its 24 member agencies. That’s why the Water Authority and many other water agencies statewide have made it a priority to promote sensible funding strategies to address this important issue. We are committed to delivering safe and reliable water, and we wholeheartedly support the goal of ensuring the same for all Californians.

Water tax proposal hurts the people it is intended to help

But taxing water isn’t the right approach.

Among the many problems with this is strategy is that it sets a bad precedent. California currently does not tax water or essential food products. However, even before the first proposed water tax has been voted on, two additional water tax proposals have already emerged in Sacramento. Both of those taxes would drive up water bills by as much as $15 to $20 each month.

The cost of living in California is already high, and taxing drinking water works against the very people that the funds are intended to help.

Of course, Californians overwhelmingly object to legislation that would create a new tax on drinking water, according to a recent poll of likely 2018 voters. In all, 73 percent said they opposed the Senate legislation. Over half said they “strongly opposed” the measure, while just 8 percent said they “strongly supported” it.

Thankfully, there are better alternatives.

California appropriately uses its general fund to pay for other important programs and social issues identified as state priorities, including public health, education, housing and disability services. The public supports using the general fund to pay for programs that serve and protect residents and communities in need.

Dozens of local water agencies, chambers and other groups have joined together to advance more appropriate funding solutions – a package that includes federal safe drinking water funds, voter-approved general obligation bond dollars, cap-and-trade revenues, agricultural fees related to nitrate in drinking water, and general fund money. With this approach, we can address an important issue for our state without adding a tax on our most precious natural resource.

 

 

San Diego County Water Authority Board Chairman Mark Muir. Photo: Water Authority Historic water deal

Water Authority Seeks Bright Ideas

From California’s earliest days as a state, innovation has been king. We’ve collectively developed world-changing ways of mining gold, telling stories through film, farming, computing and communicating.

That same innovative DNA courses through the San Diego County Water Authority, which over the past year has expanded its efforts to advance pioneering solutions to water industry challenges.

Innovation is not a new concept for the Water Authority, which helped craft the largest water conservation-and-transfer agreement in U.S. history 15 years ago and more recently helped launch the largest seawater desalination plant in the country.

But these days we are taking a particularly aggressive approach across the agency to identify cutting-edge technologies that will help us continue to manage the region’s diverse water supplies and improve long-term stewardship of the region’s most precious natural resource. We have created an internal Innovation Program to promote creative problem-solving by staff, and we have started more broadly publicizing our interest in bright ideas from entrepreneurs and others who can help us stay ahead of water management issues.

Submit your innovative product or concept

If you have a product or concept that you would like to tell us about, go to sdcwa.org/innovation-program and submit the online form. That will help us identify the appropriate team member to evaluate your idea and provide feedback. Our goal is to respond within seven business days and let you know whether we have additional questions; if your product or idea may be a good fit for another agency; or if it is not feasible within the scope of our operations.

At the same time, we are promoting innovation on a national level. We’ve partnered with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to co-sponsor a nationwide contest to advance corrosion and leak-detection technologies for large-diameter pipelines. Corrosion and leaks are a major problem across the country, resulting in billions of gallons of water wasted annually, along with disruptions in water service and costly repairs.

Contest could help discover the next generation of water-saving tools

The competition runs through May 9 and includes a $75,000 purse provided by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the nation’s largest water provider and the operator of more than 20,000 miles of buried water pipelines. The Water Authority’s contribution includes helping to design the competition and providing judges to identify new approaches that can work effectively regardless of pipeline diameter or construction material.

There are numerous methods for finding leaks and flaws, and the Water Authority has pioneered some of them. However, none of them can efficiently assess the overall condition of pipelines while in operation. This contest could help us discover the next generation of condition assessment and water-saving tools, and it underscores one of our most important values – innovation. To learn more about the competition, go to www.usbr.gov/research/challenges/leakypipes.html.