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Let's understand the case for detachment from the San Diego County Water Authority

 

Last updated 3/13/2020 at 2:34am



As a new Fallbrook resident, I attended the recent Fallbrook Community Forum. I was impressed with the openness, friendliness, dedication and commitment of the participants. The experience led me to join the Fallbrook Chamber of Commerce.

I wish my enthusiasm extended to the proposal for our community to detach from the San Diego County Water Authority. The report involved whining about “process issues” that commonly consume public agencies. Observing the crowd, the presumption is that the affirmative case for the proposal has been made. Nothing could be further from the truth.

What was missing is a substantive presentation of the affirmative case for the proposal and risk assessment. When rhetoric replaces clear-eyed information and analysis, the track record of public agencies is disturbing.

The proposal’s rhetoric is about “lower water rates.” No emphasis on the relative reliability of water service from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California versus the San Diego County Water Authority.

The focus is agriculture. There is no consideration of the interests of municipal water users or the agricultural water users who currently opt-in to the superior supply reliability of the Water Authority and voluntarily pays a higher water price that detachment proposal wants to avoid.

I have reviewed the “materials” of Rainbow MWD. They are incomplete at best. At worst, flawed.

The mantra of “lower water rates” may be a canard. Metropolitan’s water rates have increased at an annual rate of 4.9% since 2008. With the demise of the State Water Project and “water fixes” in Northern California on the horizon, Metropolitan faces further long-term rate increases in excess of 30%. As I shared with the Rainbow MWD board at its December meeting, from my written comments:

· “What matters is how water rates will evolve in the future.”

· “Capital markets are aware of Metropolitan’s water rate history: its rates and charges have increased substantially faster than inflation since the 1960s.”

· “The experience over the last 10 years is no exception.”

· “A comparative analysis requires addressing the fundamentals of Metropolitan’s future versus the Water Authority.”

· “Where Metropolitan is still seeking new water supplies, the Water Authority has secured its investments in Colorado River water and desalinated seawater.”

· “Going forward, the ‘stubborn dynamics’ of Metropolitan rates must be compared with the Water Authority’s contractual provisions for its Colorado River water supplies and Carlsbad desalinated water.”

As I also shared with the Rainbow MWD board, the discussion of water supply reliability is lacking. From my written comments:

· “Metropolitan’s Colorado River water supplies are junior in priority to the Water Authority’s Colorado River water supplies.”

· “Where Metropolitan’s non-Colorado River water supplies are claims on a deteriorating hydrologic lottery, the Water Authority’s non-Colorado River water supplies are the drought-proof desalinated water supply from the Carlsbad Desalination Plant.”

None of these factors were considered by the Weinberg Water Consulting report on water supply reliability. What is the water supply lottery of the detachment proposal? More frequent and severe water shortages?

I requested of the Rainbow board, saying, “As Rainbow proceeds with assessing its strategic alternatives, the consequences for water supply reliability and long-term water rates should be thoroughly and publicly vetted.”

Our community would benefit from townhall meetings on the detachment proposal. While Rainbow, FPUD and the Water Authority may wish to participate, it is critical that Fallbrook residents participate. As a new homeowner, I am concerned about the future water supply reliability of water service and hitching my water bill to Metropolitan.

Would it be helpful to kick the tires hard to assure ourselves that the detachment proposal will not become a “Fallbrook Folly?” Which of our community’s nonprofits will step up and organize?

I happen to be an expert in water issues throughout the Colorado River basin and Mexico. Visit my firm’s website, http://www.stratwater.com, and my blog, http://www.hydrowonk.com.

Rodney T. Smith

 

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