October 30, 2010 (La Mesa) – Helix Water District’s Board of Directors has faced challenges amid an era of water shortages caused by drought and court decisions limiting our region’s water supplies from Northern California. Water rate hikes, budget cuts and development of new water sources for our region are all key issues the Board must contend with in the future.
Yet campaigns for this board have stirred surprisingly little attention among the public. Only one seat is contested. Incumbent DeAna Verbeke is running against challengers Stephen D. Last and Jordie Lehr in Division 2. In Division 4, incumbent Kathleen Hedberg is unopposed.
East County Magazine invited all three Division 2 candidates to respond to an e-mail questionnaire. Verbeke responded in detail. The others did not respond.
Last, a military veteran and koi breeder, lists his priorities at SmartVoter.org as “decrease imported water by 50%, use of salt water pools and fountains, and use in house filters for drinkable water.” He lists no website but does list an email and phone that voters may contact: 619-469-2646; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lehr has posted large signs around town, but posted no information at Smart Voter. His website, www.eastcountywater.com, indicates he is is chairman of the Industrial Arts department at Grossmont High School. Lehr's site states that he maintained a budget for his department "without ever exceeding it" despite cuts in education funding. He notes that water rates have increased over 46% in two years and pledges to vote no on every water rate increase. He does not indicate how he would balance the District's budget if wholesale water rates to the District increase, as water authorities predict is likely.
An internet search turned up no additional information on either Lehr or Last in any other media outlets.
Questions sent to Verbeke, along with her responses, are published below.
Q: What are your primary reasons for running for this office?
A: I care about the people in my community and have a passion to help them by keeping their water rates as low as possible and working to ensure a reliable supply of water for the future. I am experienced and want to continue what I have started through another four years.
Q: What are your main qualifications?
A: Honesty and integrity. I listen to my ratepayers and represent them with my vote.
Q: Five years’ experience on the Helix Board; 20+ years of business experience including complete management and financial responsibility of a local manufacturing company; leadership training and experience in the community, business, and my church; Completed classes in math for water, water treatment, and water distribution at Cuyamaca College, with an “A” in all three, to better understand the Helix water system and make sound financial decisions; bachelors degree in business administration.
Q: For the incumbent, what are your most important accomplishments while in office?
A: I consider accomplishments that benefit the ratepayers most important.
In 2008, fought and defeated the 5-tier rate structure which was unfair to large lot owners most of whom are in my division.
In 2010, successful in keeping the fixed base rate the same as 2009. Voted against the 8% rate increase.
Q: For the challengers, what key differences do you have on issues from the incumbent?
A: (not applicable to the incumbent.)
Q: What are the top 3 issues facing the district?
A: Keeping water rates as low as possible with a fair and equitable rate structure.
Outreach to educate the community on the El Monte Valley Project.
Q: Are you in favor of the Helix Water District multi-tiered rate structure? Why or why not?
A: I attended a 3-hour workshop on the water rate structure at Helix yesterday. I have new knowledge that I am still processing.
The multi-tiered structure for domestic water customers is a method of encouraging water conservation. Our customers have conserved 21% over the past three years. Our imported water supply is limited by the drought on the Colorado and pumping restrictions from the North. It is imperative we maintain this level of conservation and even reduce water use further where practical. I am not in favor of Tier 3 subsidizing Tier 1, however, it’s the only way a 3-tier system can work since the district must recover the cost of domestic water use from the revenue generated in that class. Helix will hold a second workshop prior to 2011 rate hearings I will vote for the rate structure that is most fair and equitable for the customers.
Q: With water costing HWD more all the time, how would you propose offsetting those costs for the District?
A: Controlling costs, reducing reserves, and continue encouraging customers to conserve water, support local water supply projects.
Q: What are your ideas about how to find new sources of potable water?
A: Send all the treated wastewater to a reservoir for reuse.
Capture storm water.
Additional Seawater Desalination Plants
Q: What is your opinion regarding HWD involvement in the proposed El Monte Valley Project?
A: I strongly support the El Monte Valley Project. It will provide 15% of the Helix water demand.
Q: According to HWD, 60% of our water use is for other than potable uses, What is your opinion of reclaimed water (so called "Purple Pipe") for those needs?
A: Putting in purple pipe is extremely expensive and would once again tear up our streets. If we put all the treated waste water back in the reservoirs, treat it to potable level and reuse it rather than have two sets of pipe and two levels of treated water (risk of crossing lines), it would be less expensive.
We are already drinking treated waste water – Las Vegas reuses 100% of their waste water by putting it in Lake Mead – the Colorado River water pumped to Southern California comes from Lake Mead to the Helix water treatment plant. Sacramento dumps their treated waste water in the Sacramento River which flows through the delta and is then pumped South and is purchased for use by the district.
Q: Given all that is taking place with water, what is your vision for the future?
A: Continue to cut costs wherever possible. Complete the El Monte Valley Project. Work to pass the Water Bond in 2012 to “fix the Delta”. Educate customers to conserve water not only to save money, but because our supply is limited. Install Smart Meters so customers can track their water use daily and know immediately if they have a leak. Complete the installation of the solar power project at Helix.
Q: Do you have a website?
Q: Who are your main endorsements?
A: Grossmont-Mt. Helix Improvement Association (GMIA)
Supervisor Dianne Jacob
Assemblymember Joel Anderson
Ernie Ewin, Councilmember, City of La Mesa
Barry Jantz, CEO, Grossmont Healthcare District
John Minto, Councilmember, City of Santee
Dana Quittner, Education Consultant
Doug Wilson, General Manager, Padre Dam MWD
Richard Smith, President, Helix Water Board
John Linden, Helix Water Board
Kathleen Hedberg, Helix Water Board
Chuck Muse, Helix Water Board
Q: What else would you like our readers to know?
A: I want readers to know I care about their water rates. They cannot continue to pay ever-increasing water bills. I will act on their behalf to control spending while maintaining pipes, tanks, pump stations and other parts of the infrastructure. I will work to find new sources of local water for a reliable supply for future generations. I am available by phone or email any time and would appreciate hearing their concerns and an opportunity to answer their questions. 619-750-9006 email@example.com