By Miriam Raftery
December 10, 2015 (Sacramento) – Helix Water District board member Kathleen Hedberg spoke at a public workshop in Sacramento held by the State Water Resources Control Board on Monday. Hedberg urged the Board to revise current emergency regulations that mandate huge water cuts statewide and to take into consideration water districts where customers have already been conserving.
In an impassioned plea, she noted that Helix customers already cut use and have exceeded the mandate, but that this has forced many to allow trees and shrubs to die. She noted that the district has invested in increasing water supply and has adequate water to meet customer needs.
"My constituents and Helix Water District customers are outraged and frustrated that they have paid for water supply, storage and reliability projects and we are being told to cut back on water use even when we have enough water as we prepared for drought times and the future," Hedberg testified. Below are her full comments to the Board, along with her assessment of mixed reactions received from state regulators:
Good afternoon Chair Marcus, Board Members and staff…I am an elected board member for the Helix Water District, you may have remembered me as I commented at the public hearing on the emergency regulations in May and I had urged you to reconsider and modify the restrictions set forth for San Diego County as WE were prepared for this drought. Nonetheless, you went forward and my agency that serves drinking water to over 270,000 were required to conserve 20%.
1. My customers have been cutting back for years, 2007-2015 down 22%. Low flush toilets, showerheads and replaced landscapes.
2. Per capita use in 2013 was 114gpc and we are mandated to be at 92gpc.
3. My customers have met the 20% mandate and are well above the mandate now at 27% as water use is not an exact science.
4. Many have just let their yards go, trees and shrubs dying due to our warm area and nowhere left to cut back.
5. San Diego County has 99% water supply availability and due to the current restrictions we cannot use the water that my customers need.
6. Our County has invested in a billion dollar desal plant, recycled water, and planning recycled drinking water sources and increased our local storage at a price tag over $500 million.
7. We also are 100% metered and many agencies have put in automated meters to help conservation, while in Sacramento many customers are not metered and that installation is being expedited as metering water supplies is a proven method of conservation!
8. My constituents and Helix Water District customers are OUTRAGED and FRUSTRATED that they have paid for water supply, storage and reliability projects and we are being told to cut back on water use even when we have enough water as we prepared for drought times and the future.
9. We increased our water rates over 100% in the past 10 years for investments! And the recent water rate increases that we just adopted could be more than another 50% in the next 5 years and this is due to anticipated state water reductions. We had over 550 protest letters and a room filled with over 200 people protesting our water rate increases.
10. We are telling our customers to pay more and use less, much less, while we have 99% water available to meet local needs.
11. Every gallon of new water we create should be credited against the conservation mandate accordingly.
12. We should NOT be Penalized for investment and planning!!!
In an e-mail sent to constituents after the hearing, Hedberg made the following observations:
Well, I got Chair Marcus’s attention and she asked me a few questions, when was the rate hearing (October), and please explain the 99% water availability and asked for the San Diego County Water Authority Representative to come up and explain. Which SDCWA Board President and ironically, Helix Water District Past General Manager, Mark Weston responded and answered her questions and said, yes, SDCWA has ample enough water for the year and years to come etc. It was very rare that people who spoke were engaged, I think she got the San Diego County message as most speakers were from San Diego County.
The meeting ended at 5:10pm, there were only two Board Members left, Fran Spivy-Weber and Chair Marcus, they both spoke and said they appreciated the comments and look forward to more evaluation of information presented, needed more “real life” examples by the Panels, and would consider incorporation if it is easy and fair.
However, Chair Marcus said that this is an emergency, and this is the Millennial Drought, in a marathon, figure out what we can do in the short term and in the long run, and see what happens with the snowfall in April and she will talk to staff. Board Member Weber mentioned that there was no real outrage presented today about the regulations (WHAT???) and that there was no statement of how agencies are being more efficient (WHAT????), but she is concerned about the trees, Chair Marcus is also concerned about the trees and why the Agencies are not doing more to help the public with saving trees.
We will see a new draft regulation framework in January for comment as new regulations need to be re-issued in February as the mandatory 25 percent statewide reduction in potable urban water use was stated between June 2015 and February 2016..