Village News Reporter
The Nov. 8 election will include two Rainbow Municipal Water District board seats.
Miguel Gasca is the incumbent for the Division 3 seat and is being challenged by Greg Irvine. Bill Stewart was appointed to fill the District 4 vacancy and is being challenged by Patti Townsend-Smith, whose communications preference ran afoul of a monthly data limit.
Gasca was appointed to fill a vacancy in February 2017 after Tory Walker moved to Murrieta. Gasca sought re-election in 2018 and was unopposed. He is seeking a second full term “to finish the work that we started there with the district,” he said.
Division 3 is the central part of the Rainbow Municipal Water District service area and includes the Gird Valley and Pala Mesa. Gasca has lived on Wilt Road since 2011 but previously lived in San Bernardino County. He lived in Running Springs, which is at the junction of State Route 330 and State Route 18, from 1974 to 1987. He worked as an engineer for TRW/Northrup Grumman before retiring in 2009 and then founded Apogean Group, LLC, which utilizes senior scientists and engineers to provide consulting services. After Gasca retired he and his wife began looking for homes in San Diego County. “Found a place in Fallbrook,” he said.
Gasca served two four-year terms on the Running Springs Water District board. He noted that the Running Springs district faced an aging infrastructure along with increased cost of water supply. Upgrading that district’s water supply allowed the Running Springs homeowners to obtain better Insurance Service Office ratings. “What we’re trying to do is the same sort of thing here,” Gasca said.
“It’s about 160 miles of pipe that is aging out,” Gasca said. “When you have the experience of doing it before it makes it a little bit easier to tackle the job ahead.”
Irvine has water agency experience as a staff member. He is originally from New Jersey and moved to California in the 1980s due to United States Marine Corps deployment. After his discharge, he rose through the ranks with the City of Corona and was the assistant city manager for the city’s Utilities Department before becoming Corona’s city manager.
“I understand how municipal agencies work,” Irvine said.
Irvine and his wife moved to Greater Fallbrook in 2017. “It’s beautiful, paradise,” he said. “I just don’t think you can beat it. I love it here.”
That love of the area didn’t apply to Irvine’s water district satisfaction. “My experience with Rainbow was less than superb,” he said.
Irvine experienced clogged filters in his water system. “I had to change that thing every month,” he said. “There’s got to be something that can deliver cleaner water in people’s pipes.”
Fixed costs of $125 a month also caused Irvine to run for the board seat. “I really do know quite a lot about the inner workings of a water agency,” he said. “I have these ideas and I have this experience.”
Rainbow and the Fallbrook Public Utility District are currently considering detaching from the CWA and joining the Eastern Municipal Water District. Gasca and Irvine differ on whether any alternatives to detachment can be achieved.
“We need to look at the organizations that surround us and continue to work with them,” Gasca said.
That includes not only Eastern but FPUD, which is developing local supply. “We have a good relationship, I think, with them,” he said.
The relationship was not so good in the recent past when a jurisdictional consolidation with FPUD and Rainbow was being discussed. Irvine sees a revival of the consolidation idea as an alternative which could lower rates while allowing Rainbow to remain in the CWA. “I certainly think these districts could be consolidated. Costs would be lower,” he said.
Detachment opponents counter that much of Eastern’s supply is from MWD while the CWA has a diversified and thus more reliable supply. “Something’s reliable when it’s 100% reliable,” Gasca said.
Rainbow’s elevation levels cause doubt about the reliability of the CWA emergency delivery system. “They can only get it just past the 76,” Gasca said. “They don’t have the capability to do it for us 100%.”
Gasca noted that working with FPUD and other agencies would be a more reliable source of water in an emergency including a drought which causes restrictions of MWD delivery. “That’s where we would see water coming in order to help us with any kind of a situation like that,” he said.
Irvine noted that San Diego County is where the county government as well as the CWA is. “We are giving up those channels of communication,” he said. “I don’t think the answer is temporarily cheaper water or ag water from Eastern Municipal Water District.”
Use of the word “temporary” indicates Irvine’s concerns about Eastern’s currently lower supply rates. “The cost of water is the cost of water,” he said. “If it’s rates that are the driver here, rates change.”
FPUD has a recycled water system. Rainbow does not, although groundwater recharge is being explored by the board. “Recycled water definitely is another way to create reliability within your water system,” Gasca said.
“We started looking at pure water. We’ve completed the first phase and we’re getting ready to enter into the second phase for more detailed analysis,” Gasca said. “It will give us a good evaluation of what can be done and how much benefit it will provide for the community.”
Rainbow currently sends wastewater through the Oceanside outfall which is treated by the City of Oceanside and then sent to the Pacific Ocean. “If we capture that and put it to good use within the district then everybody benefits,” Gasca said. “It would make sense to take the wastewater and work something out with FPUD.”
“I would certainly be in favor of looking into it,” Irvine said. “If it makes financial sense you should definitely do it.”
Irvine noted that recycled water may be more feasible in areas with higher density. “A lot has to do with the infrastructure,” he said.
Stewart has been appointed to the District 4 seat twice. He initially filled a vacancy in March 2016 and was unopposed in the November 2016 election for the final two years of that term. Stewart lost by a 172-vote margin to Carl Rindfleisch in the November 2018 election. After Rindfleisch moved to Arizona, the Rainbow board appointed Stewart to fill the seat in November 2021.
“This has been a fine board to work with,” Stewart said. “I was very happy to be reappointed and unhappy to find out that we have been stalled for 3 1/2 years by the Local Agency Formation Commission.”
LAFCO will make the decision on the FPUD and Rainbow detachment including a potential “exit fee” to cover the loss of CWA fixed cost revenue from the two districts. The LAFCO decision will be followed by a public vote. “I’m excited that we are close now to bringing that issue to a vote and allowing the people of Fallbrook to make that decision,” Stewart said.
Stewart and his wife have lived in Pala Mesa since 2012. They moved from Menifee to Pala Mesa and had moved from Oceanside to Menifee. “We’ve always enjoyed living in rural places,” he said.
Prior to his retirement in February 2016, Stewart professionally managed large community associations for 40 years and worked with mutual water companies and water districts. He was raised in Riverside and first came to San Diego County in 1966 to attend San Diego State University.
Stewart doubts that an alternative to detachment will provide Rainbow ratepayers with satisfactory rates. “I kind of look at it as taxation without representation,” he said.
Rainbow general manager Tom Kennedy is Rainbow’s representative to the CWA board. The CWA has a weighted vote system. Rainbow has 3.926% of the weighted vote and FPUD has a weighted vote of 2.238%.
Stewart added that the CWA infrastructure fixed costs fund is south of Fallbrook. “We’ve contributed a huge amount to those costs,” he said. “They don’t benefit us.”
Eastern also has infrastructure. “Their infrastructure is better funded,” Stewart said. “It’s time for us to be paying for the water and not for the infrastructure.”
Stewart also noted Rainbow’s attempts to obtain groundwater recharge supply from the San Luis Rey Basin, but he notes that pumping costs will be part of recycled water expenses.
Infrastructure will be required for recycled wastewater. “We don’t have a distribution system,” Stewart said.
Stewart’s community management experience includes the creation of three recycled water systems. “They have to have treatment facilities for the wastewater,” he said. “It becomes economically unfeasible at this point in our district unless we’re going to target specific neighborhoods.”