Opinion: San Diego’s Successful Desal Plant Should Be a Model for California Water Policy

Often the value of a plan or project can best be judged by its opposition. In the case of the proposed Poseidon desalination plant in Huntington Beach, the forces lined up against it are clear indicators that it’s a worthwhile enterprise.

COVID-Water Debt-Debt Relief-Coronvirus

Agencies Seek Relief Funds to Cover Delinquent Water Bills

Water agencies across the region are seeking help from the County of San Diego and the 18 incorporated cities in the county to provide essential financial relief for households throughout the county that are facing growing water bill delinquencies due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The water agencies are asking that the cities and the county allocate state and federal COVID relief funds to provide water bill offsets for financially strapped residents.

Local water suppliers “have not received any COVID-related funding assistance to help address the substantial water debt held by residents of our communities that would help to provide much-needed relief to water ratepayers,” according to mid-February letters from water officials to county and city leaders.

Helping with water debt repayment a “high priority”

“It’s very important to prioritize helping those San Diegans first who are at greatest risk of serious economic harm as a result of the pandemic so they can avoid exacerbating their dire financial conditions as the pandemic lingers,” said the letters. “We believe that helping residents with water debt repayment should be one of those high priorities, and we look forward to working with you in the coming weeks to ensure that COVID relief funds that you receive from the State or through direct federal allocation are shared in the same spirit of partnership that we reach out to you today.”

The letters were signed by the San Diego County Water Authority and 12 of its member agencies: the cities of Del Mar, Escondido and Oceanside, Sweetwater Authority, Otay Water District, Olivenhain Municipal Water District, Helix Water District, Padre Dam Municipal Water District, Vallecitos Water District, Vista Irrigation District, Rincon del Diablo Municipal Water District, and Valley Center Municipal Water District. California American Water, which serves Coronado and Imperial Beach, also signed the letters.

Debt crisis

“The water suppliers would commit to see that any resources received are allocated directly to offset water bill delinquencies that have accumulated since the beginning of the COVID pandemic, or that have materially increased over the past 10 months,” said the letters.

“This accumulation of debt – along with other utility, rent, and unpaid bill debt – threatens to create a long-term and enveloping household economic crisis for thousands of San Diegans. While the water supplier community has worked closely with our Congressional partners and the Newsom Administration, there has not been COVID financial relief forthcoming directly to water suppliers to help customers with the growing crisis of household water debt.”

Pandemic-related water bill debt

Recent reports show that nearly 70,000 households in San Diego County have accumulated pandemic-related water bill debt. It is estimated that San Diego County customers alone owe as much as $50 million in water bill payments that are currently delinquent and in arrears as a direct result of the pandemic.

$1 billion in unpaid water bills

The State Water Resources Control Board recently released the results of a statewide survey of water systems which found that California residents owe an estimated $1 billion in unpaid water bills that have accumulated since the Governor issued COVID-related emergency orders in early April 2020.

Under California law, water agencies are prohibited from taking money from reserves to pay off the debt for ratepayers behind on their bills.  “As a result, an independent source of funds, separate and apart from rate revenue, is necessary to provide the types of rate offsets and relief that are so desperately needed by our customers,” the letters state.

The San Diego County Water Authority and its 24 retail member agencies do not make a profit. Rather, rates and charges support the infrastructure and supply that provides the safe, reliable water that fuels the region’s economy and quality of life.

Sen. Dodd Introduces Water Access Equity Bills

With the release of a new study showing low-income Californians are struggling to afford drinking water, especially amid economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, announced legislation today to provide financial assistance to customers who can’t pay their water bills and to prevent service disconnections.

“Access to water is a fundamental right of all Californians, regardless of their income level or economic status,” Sen. Dodd said. “Yet as we’ve seen today, many people are at risk of being denied this essential service, in part because of rising water rates but also because the pandemic has left so many people unemployed. My legislation will ensure low-income customers aren’t cut off and get the financial help they need to keep the water turned for their families.”

Calgon Carbon Given FPUD Contract for Granulated Activated Carbon System

Calgon Carbon Corporation was awarded the Fallbrook Public Utility District contract to provide granular activated carbon treatment system equipment. FPUD’s board voted 5-0, Dec. 7, to award Calgon Carbon a contract for $1,260,493. A separate 5-0 vote that day approved a change order to the construction contract with Filanc Alberici JV to install pipelines associated with the granular activated carbon treatment system.

State Water Board Official Urges Cal Am to Seek Water Supply Resolution

A top State Water Resources Control Board administrator is “strongly encouraging” California American Water to “resolve disputes” and pursue both short-term and long-term water supply solutions for the Monterey Peninsula while pointing out that the Carmel River aquifer pumping cutback order deadline at the end of next year is approaching with no additional water supply project expected to be operational by then.

Zero Delta Smelt Found in Latest Search. New Habitat Hopes to Change That

An annual search for a tiny endangered and contentious fish in the sprawling California Delta has once again come up empty.

The state’s annual Fall Midwater Trawl Survey found no delta smelt in September’s sampling of the critical waterway. The last time the rare fish turned up in a survey was in October 2017 when just two were found. Hoping to reverse the recent trend, the Westlands Water District and the California Department of Water Resources announced the completion of a Delta habitat restoration project on Wednesday.

Wildfires Emerge as Threat to Water Quantity Across Parched West

As the largest wildfire in Colorado history spread beyond 200,000 acres, Mark Kempton began to worry it would incinerate so much of the Fort Collins watershed that the city would be unable to guarantee water to its residents.

When the spring rains come next year, ash and debris will pour down the slopes of the Rocky Mountains and clog the city’s water intake on the Cache la Poudre River, said Kempton, interim director of Fort Collins Utilities, which oversees the water supply for Colorado’s fourth-largest city.

Is Ecosystem Change in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Outpacing the Ability of Science to Keep Up?

Radically transformed from its ancient origin as a vast tidal-influenced freshwater marsh, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta ecosystem is in constant flux, influenced by factors within the estuary itself and the massive watersheds that drain though it into the Pacific Ocean. Lately, however, scientists say the rate of change has kicked into overdrive, fueled in part by climate change, and is limiting the ability of science and Delta water managers to keep up. The rapid pace of upheaval demands a new way of conducting science and managing water in the troubled estuary that is central to California’s water conveyance system.

Will Gov. Newsom Replace Poseidon Desal Project Critic on OC Regional Water Board?

The clock is ticking away this week on the reappointment of a key state regional water board member and vocal critic of a controversial, pending proposal for a seawater desalting plant in Huntington Beach.

There are mounting questions over whether Gov. Gavin Newsom will replace William von Blasingame — an Irvine resident first appointed to the regulatory seat in 2013 by former governor Jerry Brown — when his current term expires Sept. 30, ahead of his panel’s vote on the Poseidon Water Co.’s desalination proposal.

Opinion: Water Board Must Establish a State Water Budget that California Can Afford

Former U.S. Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt writes that a “Grand Bargain” in California water is needed to end the “political culture of deferral” and allow major water projects to advance. On the contrary, what’s needed is an adult regulator that will make hard choices that water users refuse to make.

For at least five years, the state and various water users have postponed balancing the state’s water budget by promising a grand bargain.  This promised new grand bargain is not the solution to the aptly named “culture of deferral.”  The grand bargain is the current center of deferral.