Our future should be the hands of the electorate

Guest Editorial

Our future should be the hands of the electorateLocal property-owners recently received a Groundwater Authority Prop-218 fee adoption notice. The notice implements neither a management action nor a project from the approved Groundwater Sustainability Plan. Instead, it implements part of an approved management action as well as a pseudo water importation project not in the GSP. The pseudo water project is incomplete since it does not deliver one drop of water to our valley. The impact of this hybrid project on the overall implementation of the GSP is unknown. However, the notice raises some obvious questions regarding how many fees the GA plans to impose, how many run concurrently, the magnitude of each fee, and who pays for each specific project? The GA needs to provide the big picture!

The typical Prop-218 notice includes a specific project with clearly identified services to be provided by the project. It contains a required funding profile, a construction schedule, and an estimate of future recurring costs. The recent notice gave none of this information.

An augmentation fee (replenishment fee) is acceptable when adopted in conjunction with a reasonable overdraft mitigation project(s). We have a problem; it needs to be fixed. The current notice proposes to generate a reserve fund, which may or may not be used to partially fund an imported water project in the future. No schedule was given. The proposed Prop-218 project will not reduce basin overdraft in the foreseeable future. It simply creates a bank account.

There are three primary categories of projects that could mitigate our overdraft. That includes imported water, local water exploration, and water recycling. Why was a pseudo water importation project selected over other less expensive options? There are years of obstacles to be overcome prior to us importing water. We do not need to spend tens of millions of dollars on water importation until we have looked at the alternatives. Our water resources manager, Stetson, has been clear regarding the GA having to address water recycling prior to getting approval to import water. Do we have projects out of order?

Both local water exploration and recycling projects are largely under the control of the GA or one of its agencies. They cost less than water importation and could have an impact on our water overdraft in the next few years. No serious cost benefit analysis has been done by the GA comparing water importation, recycling, and exploration.

The most politically feasible GSP water importation project is also the most expensive with capital costs exceeding $300 million dollars and annual recurring costs exceeding $8 million. The notion the current proposed project doesn’t commit us to the full imported water project is misguided. It is analogous to the last step one takes jumping off a cliff just before going into free fall.

There is a table in the notice allocating the excess Navy water, which is the basis for who pays the augmentation fee. The origin of the table is unknown. The engineering report states California law requires the costs of projects be identified and equitably distributed by the engineering report in accordance with special benefits derived from the projects. Yet, the pumpers paying for the proposed project are an assumption at the start. No criteria was given as to how the table was formulated. Theoretically, priority was given to the Navy off-station workforce. I found no evidence of that. The table is simply not equitable. Details would require a separate editorial.

The only thing the proposed project creates is a bank account. I believe it is fair to say the GA has not demonstrated good money management the last four years. Actually, that is being very kind. Should we trust the GA with $50 million of our money? The report calculated a fee based upon a five year collection period, but the notice gives no termination date. That should scare people. The State has not approved our GSP. We are moving too fast. This is premature.

To summarize, the project is poorly defined and the fee collection to generate the ill-defined fund is not equitable. The GA needs to take a clean sheet of paper and review all the projects that could help our basin overdraft using the public as a sounding board and prioritize potential projects. All anticipated costs need to be itemized and transparent. The GA also needs to review the water allocation table and provide specific quantitative criteria to ensure equitable sharing of the costs.

In the final analysis the future of the basin is in the hands of the electorate. There will be an election this November. Incumbents of the City Council and Water District Board of Directors not objecting to the proposed project do not have to be re-elected. Non incumbent candidates need to make their objectives clear related to solving the overdraft. Wasting money won’t fix the problem — it simply creates a bigger problem. The public needs to be involved.

Stan Rajtora

Story First Published: 2020-07-24