By Shawn Raymundo

Ongoing negotiations with Santa Margarita Water District (SMWD) to potentially take over San Juan Capistrano’s water and wastewater services are “going great,” according to City Manager Ben Siegel.

“I was confident before in Santa Margarita being qualified; I’m even more confident now after having weekly conversations and meetings with their team,” Siegel said during the most recent Coffee Chat at Hennessy’s Tavern on Friday, April 26.

Reiterating statements SMWD General Manager Dan Ferons had made in mid-March, Siegel said city staff and the water agency are looking to have an agreement, or Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), drawn up and presented to the City Council by June or July.

To become the city’s successor agency for water services, SMWD will need to submit an application to the Orange County Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) for review. The MOU would outline the details of that application, Siegel said.

The City Council unanimously voted to enter into exclusive negotiations with Santa Margarita during its Feb. 19 meeting. Leading up to that decision, Moulton Niguel Water District and South Coast Water District had also been contenders.

With increasing costs becoming an issue, the city had long been looking to annex its Utilities Department and transfer it to another agency that’s more capable of handling San Juan’s water and wastewater services. The council in April 2016 voted to have LAFCO look into restructuring options under a Municipal Service Review.

The city currently contracts Santa Margarita to provide water-metering services. SMWD, along with SCWD, is also working with the city on the San Juan Watershed Project, which is meant to help capture local stormwater runoff and expected to provide 5.6 billion gallons of reliable water for 50,000 families each year.

Shawn Raymundo is the city editor for The Capistrano Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @ShawnzyTsunami.

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