Guest Commentary:

Community water spokesman explores the details

John Sears has been active in informing the North Tustin community about replacing Golden State as its water supplier. As residents embrace the advantages of local control for water service, many now advocate the same for sewer service.  The current debate over the most suitable operator for the Area 7 sewer system has raised new questions about the relationship between water and sewer service, and what that means to residents. 

Could the East Orange County Water District (EOCWD) afford to acquire Golden State Water (GSW)?
Yes, as a wholesale water supplier EOCWD could easily operate the local GSW water system.  As a government agency, it would acquire the bonds for acquisition of GSW. Before doing so, however, GSW customers would need to make a formal request and approve the bond amount and repayment process.  The acquisition cost and legal fees are the responsibility of ratepayers.  In addition, EOCWD has a good relationship in its business dealings with GSW. This could help with a smooth transition.

Would Irvine Ranch Water District’s (IRWD) water be cheaper then EOCWD water?
It is hard to know what the cost of water from IRWD for each property would be. 

During many meetings with IRWD, Principal Engineer Mike Hoolihan showed us charts and graphs, and attempted to explain what our costs would be. He essentially said, “If your water bill is too high, call us, and we will come out and see if your property qualifies for a special allocation rate.” We were expecting clarity and did not get it.

 Why is it so confusing?
In May, Hoolihan provided the latest rate chart to be effective this past September.  Since then, a schedule with contingencies and modifications has been posted online. The information from this site adds some troublesome variables to IRWD’s original stated cost of water.  For example, no allocation for large properties is given unless it is “watered by drip irrigation.” The “percent of allocation” is shown with rates in place of the usual cost of water per 100 cubic feet.  The schedule also says if you have a lawn (instead of drought-tolerant landscaping), you will likely be over allocation and receive a higher bill. 

In addition, “Proof acceptable to the district will be required for each ground(s) of variance;” “Approvals are valid for a period specified by the district (one year or less), and must be resubmitted on or before the expiration date to remain in effect.” 

With these variables it is not possible to say to each property owner what their cost of water would be from IRWD, if in fact it were to take over from GSW.

By comparison, EOCWD has a clear method to calculate the cost of water. It has only one tier priced at $2.67 per CCF, plus $20.50 for a ¾-inch meter and $20 for existing water system capital projects. Thus, it is very easy to see the cost of water.

What about the sewers?
Sewer Area 7 is 95 percent in East Orange County Water District’s service territory. It could easily service those sewers now, and later take on the water that is now delivered here by GSW.

Is EOCWD financially capable to service the sewers?
Yes. It is using the pay-as-you-go model set in motion by the OC Sanitation District. In addition, the county district will transfer $30 million to EOCWD for sewer projects. EOCWD has no debt, no unfunded pensions and ample cash on hand in the millions.

There would be no interrupted service; EOCWD will employ the same sewer technicians who currently work for the Sanitation District.

Should IRWD take over the sewer lines in our streets, in front of our homes?
The residents of unincorporated North Tustin and Tustin would be left with little influence and no local control if the sewer system is awarded to IRWD.

 Why would this be so? 
IRWD’s population, compared to Area 7 residents, is lopsided; the results of our vote for any change would be ineffectual.  The 250,000-300,000 residents of the IRWD service area would overwhelm any voting opportunity our residents might have in the future. For example, the IRWD governing board would be in control here, but our vote to change it would have little effect. 

Wouldn’t we save money by having IRWD?
Yes, I would as well.  IRWD says it will lower rates by $108; EOCWD has offered a $21 decrease. That makes the total potential reduction $87. The question is, what are we giving up for a once-a-year savings that amounts to $87, or 22 cents per day? We give up representation, a local water/sewer board, and the right to vote our locally-elected board members in or out, as necessary, year after year. 

Would some in our community really sell our representation and voting rights to save $87 per year?  

I hope not. The expansion of IRWD into our unique area is even preferred by some who live here, perhaps not realizing how, over time, Irvine’s presence would change the character of unincorporated North Tustin and the surrounding communities. 

I believe that this is one of the reasons that the cities of Tustin, Orange, Villa Park and others oppose Irvine’s move into our area, starting now with the sewers.