Getting the facts straight when it comes to changing water suppliers
Last updated 8/6/2021 at 1:28pm
Jennifer DeMeo and Hayden Hamilton
We’d like to set the record straight in response to the recent guest commentary in the Village News titled: “San Diego County must not suffer if Fallbrook and Rainbow leave Water Authority” by San Diego County Water Authority board members Mel Katz and Keith Lewinger.
First, it is the ratepayers of Fallbrook and Rainbow who have been suffering – over the past 10 years, they have overpaid nearly $50 million to the Water Authority compared to the benefits they’ve received. In essence, they have been subsidizing water districts in other parts of the county who have been reaping the benefits of Water Authority projects, such as the new desalination plant in Carlsbad.
To end this overpaying, our two districts have filed applications with the San Diego Local Agency Formation Commission that would allow us to part ways (known as “detachment”) with the Water Authority and begin purchasing our water from the Eastern Municipal Water District. By switching to Eastern, we will only pay for the true cost of our water while bringing much-needed rate relief to our customers, who have seen water costs rise by an average of 8% per year over the past decade.
Yes, the Water Authority has made investments to increase the region’s water supply. But those investments have meant little to our customers. In response to the claim that we now want to “change the rules,” that’s nonsense. Never did our districts sign up to be eternal members of the Water Authority. In fact, when we joined the Water Authority decades ago, we made sure that the Water Authority Act allowed districts to leave if they so desired. Today, we are simply exercising our right to choose who we buy our water from.
By changing water suppliers, our customers will benefit mightily – their water costs will be reduced by an estimated $7-10 million a year. The suggestion that the water from Eastern (via the Metropolitan Water District, or MWD) “could be far more expensive in the years ahead or unavailable” is baseless. We are subject to the rates set by MWD regardless of whether it is purchased through Eastern or the Water Authority. Also, an independent consultant retained by LAFCO recently concluded that Eastern has the capacity to meet our water needs well into the future.
As to the financial impact that changing water suppliers would have on the remaining districts in San Diego County, it will be minimal – about 50 cents per meter per month. Again, this is simply what these districts and their customers should have been paying all along.
Regarding the Water Authority’s concern that changing water suppliers might harm the environment or increase our reliance on water imported from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, there will be zero impact on the environment and the mix of water we receive – whether from Eastern or the Water Authority – will be identical.
As for the Water Authority’s concern over losing voting power at the MWD, of which it is a member, changing water suppliers would reduce their voting power by only 0.23% – from 17.44% to 17.21%. This would have no significant impact. Further, voting rights at MWD stem from assessed valuation of the properties in our districts. Those properties are owned by our customers, not the Water Authority, so if our customers want them to be applied at Eastern, the law allows them to make that choice.
Lastly, while the Water Authority is seeking a countywide vote on this matter, the Water Authority Act is very clear – only those ratepayers seeking to change water suppliers – in this case those served by Fallbrook and Rainbow – shall vote on the matter. A countywide vote is not only unwarranted, it is not legally permissible.
As LAFCO continues its review of our applications before it votes on the matter later this year or early next year, we will continue to provide our customers with accurate information so that they have the facts when it is their turn to vote on this very important issue sometime in 2022.
Jennifer DeMeo is board president of the Fallbrook Public Utility District and
Hayden Hamilton is board president of the Rainbow Municipal Water District.