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