Guest Opinion: The Real Groundwater Recovery Plant

Byrnes has it right, regionalizing the plant is the way to go

San Juan Capistrano City Councilman Derek Reeve

San Juan Capistrano City Councilman Derek Reeve

By Derek Reeve, San Juan Capistrano City Councilman

I was heartened to read Councilman Roy Byrnes’ article in Community Common Sense where he advocated the regionalizing of the groundwater recovery plant. I have been advocating for the city to get out of the water business and to regionalize the GWRP for more than three years, and it was exciting to be joined by a fellow councilman. However, I recognized that false pride and a lingering denial in the failure of the GWRP would bring a fierce response from the council majority. Sure enough, the response arrived under the name of Councilman Larry Kramer in The Capistrano Dispatch.

Kramer acknowledged regionalization sounded good, but he incredulously rejected it for not being cost effective. To justify his absurd understanding of basic economics, he cited “facts” wrongly and attempted to distract our residents in the process.

Throughout our city’s history, the Metropolitan Water District has reliably supplied water from its Northern California and Colorado River sources. The MWD has operated for more than 80 years without a major outage, and today, it serves more than 19 million Southern California residents.

Kramer alleges the cost of GWRP water is about the same as MWD water and that water from the GWRP has actually gotten cheaper. In doing so, he contradicts the city’s own Utilities Director. At the August 21, 2012 Utilities Commission meeting, Keith Van Der Maaten reported that the cost of water produced by the GWRP for fiscal year 2012 was $1,372.77 per acre foot after the $250 per acre foot MWD subsidy. The Orange County Grand Jury reports on page 15 of its 2012-2013 report on water sustainability that the “all-in” cost of MWD water is $930.25 per acre foot. That is a difference of $442.52 per acre foot, or a $1,6222,783.33 extra cost to the taxpayers to produce 3,666 acre feet of water using the GWRP instead of buying MWD water.

Kramer’s most egregious “fact” however is there are only four people running the GWRP, not 21. This is a bureaucratic accounting trick. How many managers, employees, consultants and engineers does it take to monitor and maintain the GWRP system for 24 hours each day, including well, pumps, pipes, as well as the routine and emergency maintenance of the GWRP? Hint, it is more than four. The city’s own 2012 wage and benefits report cited 21 Utilities Department personnel. So where did the other 17 employees go? They were moved on paper, Councilman Kramer.

According to Kramer, if the GWRP were to close, something neither Byrnes nor I have advocated, the city would be required to build three or four storage tanks around the city to ensure that a seven-day supply of water is available. This is a farce. The city actually has a total of 10 reservoirs of varying capacities totaling about 15 million gallons of stored water. The Upper Chiquita Reservoir has a total capacity of 244 million gallons, of which 10.15 percent, or 24.75 million gallons, is owned by the city. In addition, the city has two wells separate and apart from the GWRP that produce 1.2 million gallons per day of potable water. The combined total of this reservoir water already exceeds the needs of the city for seven days.

One thing Kramer and I can agree on is the purpose of the GWRP is to provide water whenever supply from MWD is interrupted; in other words, an emergency regional source of water serving all San Juan Basin Authority members. However, as Kramer acknowledges this, he and the council majority continue to spend millions of your money to make the GWRP the city’s primary source of water: a source that cannot sustain a proper level of output at a true cost we cannot afford. Kramer completely ignores that the underground water supply is actually not being naturally replenished fast enough. He knows it is going to cost about $100 million more to save the underground supply from depletion and seawater intrusion. After all of the required fixes, the GWRP water cost will exceed $2,500 per acre foot when capital and operating cost of basin recharge is included. Your water bill will skyrocket.

By regionalizing the GWRP, the cost of the bond repayment and the GWRP operating cost and underground basin replenishment can be shared by all SJBA members who benefit. This would cost the city considerably less than our “go it alone” strategy and actually decreases the cost of water for you, the customer. No significant new construction is needed and the costs of operations can be recovered from a vastly expanded base of customers, who can actually benefit from having the GWRP as an emergency life line source of water without significant burden to water bills.

Councilman Byrnes and I are at a distinct disadvantage in this debate. The council majority has your money to pay numerous lawyers, lobbyists and public relations experts to tell you what is in your best interest. Byrnes and I have two things however they do not: the truth and your good sense. Together, through a real American grassroots effort, we can reverse these bad policy decisions and unnecessary lawsuits, and once and for all, return your city government to you, the residents.

Derek Reeve has been a resident of San Juan Capistrano since 1998 and has served on the City Council since 2010. He is a husband and father of two children, who currently attend school in San Juan Capistrano. Professionally, Reeve is an attorney who has been a member of the California State Bar Association since 1996. He is a constitutional scholar and graduate of the University of Southern California, as well as Claremont Graduate University.

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4 Responses to “Guest Opinion: The Real Groundwater Recovery Plant”

  1. Joanna Clark
    January 12, 2014 at 11:09 am #

    As usual, Mr. Reeve overlooks the reality of our water crisis. Climate-change, increasing population growth, extended severe to extreme drought throughout the Southwest and California, and now hydraulic fracturing (fracking) are over stressing our water supply.

    Mr. Reeve talks about MWD obtaining vast amounts of water from the Colorado river basis. Hello, Mr. Reeve, have you bothered to look at satellite photos taken annually of the Colorado river basin, in particular lakes Powell and Mead. Lake Mead’s water level has been dropping at the rate of 10 feet a year the past decade. It is anticipated that it will drop 25 feet in 2014, and scientists at Scripps Institute say there is a 10-percent chance it will be a dry lake by the end of this year, and if the drought continues is most surely will be by 2021.

    The oil companies have siphoned off more than 2.8 trillion gallons of our water coming down the aqueducts since 1985, and today they consume between 3,000,000 and 5,000,000 (yes million) per frack, and an oil well can be fracked up to 18 times. The water recovered, as well the water left in the well, is extremely toxic. The water in the well can migrate into local aquifers, making the water unusable.

    Finally there is the risk of earthquakes being generated and that is something we don’t need in a state that is already prone to earthquakes.

    Our ground water recovery plant (GWRP) was built to serve the citizen’s of San Juan Capistrano. If the MWD is unable to supply sufficient water to its customers, we will be dependent on the GWRP for our water.

    Regionalizing the GWRP is an insane idea. The GWRP will be hard pressed to keep up with our increasing population, let alone sharing our water with other cities if and when the MWD can not keep up with local demand. Of course, we could restrict our population growth beginning with one child per family.

  2. Joanna Clark
    January 12, 2014 at 11:18 am #

    It is highly doubtful that fracking will ever be done within the City limits of San Juan Capistrano. The threat is that the oil companies doing the fracking are siphoning off water upstream from us, water that we will eventually need if the drought continues.

    Governor Brown is supporting the expansion of fracking within the state. One way to send a clear message to Sacramento that we will not tolerate fracking within the State of California, to for our cities to ban fracking within their city limits.

    Mr. Reeve, what you should be doing is championing the following resolution.

    “The people of San Juan Capistrano, California, have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. San Juan Capistrano’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the City of San Juan Capistrano conserves and maintains them for the benefit of all the people. Therefore, it is resolved that the technology known as hydraulic fracturing (fracking) used to recover oil and gas from shale formation, including the use of injection wells for the storage of fracking waste water and fluids, are permanently banned within the city limits of San Juan Capistrano and its adjoining ocean.”

    Too those reading this, if you agree, write or call the City Council and tell them to pass the resolution. Together we might save the most precious resource – water. We can not live without it.

  3. Susan Daggett
    January 12, 2014 at 11:21 am #

    It is highly doubtful that fracking will ever be done within the City limits of San Juan Capistrano. The threat is that the oil companies doing the fracking are siphoning off water upstream from us, water that we will eventually need if the drought continues.

    Governor Brown is supporting the expansion of fracking within the state. One way to send a clear message to Sacramento that we will not tolerate fracking within the State of California, to for our cities to ban fracking within their city limits.

    Mr. Reeve, what you should be doing is championing the following resolution.

    “The people of San Juan Capistrano, California, have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. San Juan Capistrano’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the City of San Juan Capistrano conserves and maintains them for the benefit of all the people. Therefore, it is resolved that the technology known as hydraulic fracturing (fracking) used to recover oil and gas from shale formation, including the use of injection wells for the storage of fracking waste water and fluids, are permanently banned within the city limits of San Juan Capistrano and its adjoining ocean.”

    Too those reading this, if you agree, write or call the City Council and tell them to pass the resolution. Together we might save the most precious resource – water. We can not live without it.

  4. Dave Solt
    January 20, 2014 at 6:09 pm #

    In his piece, Guest Opinion: The Real Groundwater Recovery Plant, January 12, 2014, Council Member Derek Reeve, does a disservice by playing with the numbers, again. Council Member Kramer had repeated the Utilities Department’s report that currently, in 2014, the cost of water from the Metropolitan Water District and from the Ground Water Recovery Plant are about the same. Reeve disputed that statement by quoting 2012 data. Reeve, as Council Member, has been receiving reports showing the All-In costs of the recovery plant have been falling since 2011.

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