Chandos: OC Politicos Squeeze Local Homeowners on Water But Save Developers

I’m getting a lot of mail from my local (Trabuco Canyon) water district these days, with each successive missive sounding more desperate and shrill: we need to use 32% less water due to the ongoing four-year drought by cutting down on irrigation, tearing up lawns, buying new appliances, and not drinking water in restaurants.

The fine for breaking the new rules is $500, and there is a place on their web site to snitch on your neighbor.   “Let’s step up together and do this,” writes our district general manager.

That seems fair and reasonable. We must all tighten our belts, water-wise.

Yet not quite all of us, as it turns out.

While these dire warning letters go out the front door of water districts throughout Orange County, letters of a very different sort quietly slip out the back: “will serve” letters to developers, informing them that there is plenty of water for their projects.

My water district, for example, will be serving 84 new houses (“Skyridge”) on El Toro Road, and 65 in a new gated tract (“Saddle Crest”) on Santiago Canyon. According to an environmental impact report for the latter, each of the 65 new houses—16 with swimming pools—will consume 2,216 gallons per day, equating to 34,456 glasses of water in the restaurant. Then there’s the “Esperanza Hills” tract near Yorba Linda, approved by county supervisors in June—340 houses, each averaging over 1,000 gallons per day.

No problem, can do, said the Yorba Linda Water District, meanwhile telling existing customers to cut back 35%.

Such examples abound across Orange County, where it seems that the gap between water preaching and practice can only widen with 89,000 new houses, apartments and condos in the development pipeline.

How can it be that existing residents must watch every drop, while cities, counties, and water districts approve more and more water-guzzling housing tracts as if there’s no tomorrow?

How can my water district tell me the faucets will run dry after one more year of drought, but there’s enough water to supply 149 new houses down the road? (In fact, the Saddle Crest EIR cites district data showing more than enough to supply projected growth through 2035).

Whether it’s money or water, are our public officials behaving responsibly when they spend more than they have, or squeeze the people they were elected to represent in order to reward their developer campaign contributors?

I would like to hear their answers to these questions.

In the meantime, I’m going to sneak a glass of water.

Ray Chandos is secretary treasurer of the Rural Canyons Conservation Fund and has participated in legal fights against developments like Saddlecrest.

  • Ed Rakochy

    Great column Ray. Thanks for pointing out the duplicity of our public officials. The Yorba Linda Water District (YLWD) operates under a veil of secrecy. Their Board meetings are scheduled at 8:30 in the morning when us working stiffs can’t attend and they don’t bother to keep recordings (audio or video) of those meetings online. The YLWD even ignored the Orange County Grand Jury’s recommendations to record their meetings to allow for more transparency. The YLWD is a good ‘ole boys club where one Board member, Mike Beverage, has been there since the day the Earth cooled. I think Mike actually knows a few dinosaurs.

    • octaxpayer

      wait I thought it was law they had to post outcome of meetings?

      • octaxpayer

        Yea brown act even after closed meetings they have to-
        All actions taken and all votes in closed session must
        be publicly reported orally or in writing within 24

        • Ed Rakochy

          Read the YLWD action minutes. They’re lame. Yes you know how they voted, but there’s really no way to glean any details on what was specifically stated by the Board or the public and why the Board took certain positions.

      • Ed Rakochy

        They do what are called “action” minutes. They basically state who spoke and what they spoke about, but do not provide the details of what was said. They also indicate how the Board voted for each corresponding agenda item.

        The Yorba Linda City Council and City Commissions switched to action minutes after the recordings were made available online. The Yorba Linda Water District does not record, but just prepares action minutes.

        Here’s a link to an example:

  • They (YLWD) say they cannot use the fine revenue to offset their cost of operation. They say their cost of operation cannot be reduced. But then they hire four “water police” to patrol….. during daytime hours. The restrictions require residents to water after 6 p.m. and before 9 am. So four new hires could only report people that water during non watering hours. They won’t catch those watering on wrong days or too many days because they aren’t in the neighborhood. Good plan lol. I assume they are paying the water patrol with the fine revenue and I assume they will use it to pay state imposed fines against the district. But I’d like to know what is the authority that states they cannot use the fine revenue to offset their general revenue loss which could reduce the proposed increases to the basic water charge. And what happens to the trust funds from the fines imposed on residents if it grows? Will it be rebated back to us?

    As for Esperanza Hills, YLWD says they cannot deny water to any property owner! Even though grading during construction will take two years with the use of potable water for dust mitigation….two years worth! See facebook: ProtectOurHomesandHills and web at for further details.

  • MatrixHater

    Finally a reporter who is addressing this major hypocrisy.

  • Eddy Jackson

    The Yorba Linda Water District mandate is actually 36% (not 35). And YLWD Board of Directors are trying to force a 161% increase on 3/4″ meters and 148% increase on 1″ meters. It amounts to a $7.5 million tax increase. And then allows the Board to increase rates up to another 11% for each of the following four years.

    If you live in the YLWD service area, sign and share the petition!

  • public bizmail

    It’s more than that. The billion dollar Poseidon Desalination plant in Huntington Beach won’t add a drop to central Orange County’s water supply, because the proposed rate sheet relies on the Metropolitan Water District’s “Local Resource Program” (LRP). LRP funding is so crucial that Poseidon calls it a “Dealbreaker.” What is the LRP? The LRPs pays about $400/acre foot for water that “offsets current or future demand.” For every gallon of water the Poseidon plant makes, the MWD gets to deliver a gallon somewhere else in the system for a “Current or Future demand.” Is it any wonder South County developers are so excited about the Poseidon Adventure?

  • octaxpayer

    If I could get a better deal or tax savings without all the restrictions for artificial turf I would. I have always used drip systems and other methods to save. Of coarse now with the new water sunday/tuesday 8 minutes will not sufficiency water with drip systems as they use water right where you want and not much I have to switch to something that will fit within the law and end up wasting water. Do they ever really think or just make up rules? Yes, agree, stop all the toll roads and building for a few years..that will save. what a concept. like it.

    • octaxpayer

      one other thing. If they the water districts use the tax money that is allocated and manage correctly maybe we would not be in this mess.

  • Kathleen Tahilramani

    Ray, you have been fighting the good fight for decades. And as usual you are 100% on point. I have been diligently saving water and will continue to do so and the hypocrisy exhibited by people in water leadership positions is not surprising.

  • It’s even worse than you think. There are more than 15,000 new homes approved for the Lake Forest/Mission Viejo area. All of these will draw on the water and electricity that apparently are now in short supply. To get this through the City Councils, developers have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to elect people who will vote them the approvals they want.

  • Delgado McSlim

    Like you, Ray, I’m waiting to hear their answers too!

  • David Zenger

    Ray, don’t you ever get tired of being right?