Water officials here in Orange County are very proud to point out the foresight and investments that have been made in providing trusted and reliable water service. However, no good deed goes unpunished. All of the prudence and thoughtful planning have not been able to shield us here from the Governor and the State Water Resources Control Board as they finally decided to “manage” this drought, seven years too late.
In Orange County, we are reusing our wastewater over and over with the Ground Water Replenishment System. We’ve invested in additional storage for times of drought with Diamond Valley Lake. In spite of the fact that we’ve already gone to great lengths to conserve, the State treated everyone the same. This one-size-fits all mandate also puts in jeopardy the mission of every water agency to protect public health and public safety. No two service areas are the same. No two water systems are the same. Each needs to be managed differently to ensure water quality. We made these pleas to the State on multiple occasions however, they fell on deaf ears.
The Yorba Linda Water District paid our bills with revenue generated from large sales of water used to keep our landscapes green for 106 years. Three years ago, the District started to employ a new business model, one that was more weather resistant. A model that would cover more of the agency’s overhead costs with the basic service charge, rather than betting on high consumption sales to pay the bills. It made sense. A stricter plumbing code, enhancements in water efficient appliances and conservation practices were cutting into consumption revenues. The District developed a plan to gradually shift more of the average monthly bill onto the basic service charge.
Then the State got involved. The Governor’s Executive Order and the SWRCB Regulations shifted the mission of Water Districts from providing water service, to allocating water!
The 36 percent conservation mandate imposed by the State results in nearly $10 Million in lost revenue. Prior to the State mandates, we were looking at raising the basic service charge to cover 45 percent of our operating costs gradually over 5 years. However, the big hit caused by the state forced us to consolidate that plan into one year.
Yorba Linda Water District’s infrastructure is valued in excess of $789 million. The cost of maintaining and replacing this infrastructure (that delivers water to your home, and removes wastewater), remains essentially the same regardless of how much water is used by the community. This cost of service must be recovered. In the past, high water use funded the majority of these costs. We no longer have this dynamic. We do not want to see Yorba Linda Water District pipes blowing geysers in the air on the evening news, or read about sewers backing up into homes. Part of responsible governance is maintaining the District’s reserve balances to fund maintenance and replacement of aging infrastructure and to better weather potential disasters in the future.
We must consider the “what ifs”. What if a disaster occurred like a major earthquake, which greatly compromised the District’s water delivery system? What if the State were to impose greater restrictions next year, taxing water agencies even further? It is imperative that YLWD maintain financial stability — especially now, in these very uncertain times in the public drinking water industry.
Sure, use less water, pay more for it, is a tough pill to swallow. However in reality, its use less water, pay more to ensure it is there when you need it.
So far, the Community has responded favorably to this Drought State of Emergency. YLWD exceeded its mandated goal in June, and yes, our yards are suffering. We must remember that we have enjoyed the lowest water bills in the land for a long time. Even with the new higher rates we are proposing, that will still be the case. Hopefully our landscapes will recover. Right now though, it’s more important to have water to drink than for our lawns. It’s also more important for the professionals who manage the water system continue to be able to do so and not have to turn the reins over to the State.
Ric Collett is the president of the Yorba Linda Water District Board.