It is long over due for the Orange County Water District to catch up to government agencies all over America by livestreaming and video archiving its public meetings.
To promote inclusion in the governing process, all but two cities in Orange County have provided livestreaming of their public meetings for years. The Orange County Board of Supervisors livestreams its meetings. So does the South Coast Water District in Dana Point and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD).
The OCWD manages the Santa Ana River groundwater basin and operates the largest waste-water purification system in the world. It supplies 75 percent of the water used by 2.4 million residents living in 19 cities in north Orange County and is managed by a board of elected and appointed directors representing 10 separate districts.
The fact that the OCWD board members are either elected directly by the people or appointed by other elected representatives (city councils) is based on the premise that public citizens have a compelling interest in how their water supplies are managed.
But a majority of OCWD's directors voted against livestreaming on the grounds that it cost too much, considering the limited public interest in their meetings.
It's true that public attendance at OCWD meetings is relatively rare, but most taxpayers are unaware of the meetings or are unable to attend at times that are scheduled for the convenience of directors and officials from other water districts, not the public. And having to travel long distances from within OCWD's outlying boundaries makes attendance even more difficult.
Live video streaming of OCWD's public meetings (there are about 10 each month) would increase public interest in those meetings by providing a more convenient means for taxpayers to directly observe their water board in action.
And staff reports indicate that professional livestreaming could cost less than $13,000 a year, about the same amount spent on providing meals and snacks for the directors at the meetings they run.
As a compromise made under growing public pressure, a majority of the OCWD Board of Directors voted to upload audio recordings of most, but not all, of their pubic meetings. But audio alone carries less credibility and is no substitute for a live video/audio account detailing the actions taken by public officials and public citizens at a government meeting.
California history shows that water management has never provided a dull moment, contrary to what some OCWD board members seem to think. The future of water management promises to be even more interesting.
The forecast for extreme climate change, including longer periods of drought followed by increased flooding, will make OCWD meetings more worthy of public attention than ever before. Related issues currently before the board include water conservation vs. pumping more water from the basin, GWRS expansion, and a proposed ocean desalination plant.
The world has changed a lot since 1933 when the OCWD was formed. Livestreaming of public meetings would be a valuable tool for bringing the OCWD into the modern age of government transparency and accountability that most other public agencies have long ago entered.
To that end, I have started a petition to urge the OCWD Board of Directors to vote for livestreaming and video archiving of all its public meetings. The reaction to the petition so far indicates support from across the political spectrum, including Tim Brick, former MWD president, Garden Grove Mayor Bao Nguyen and Orange County Business Council President Lucy Dunn.
John Earl publishes the Surf City Voice, a news blog about “Water Boarding in Southern California”.
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