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OPINION: Mayor's Message about Water

Larry Kramer outlines the various projects your water rates cover besides just the wet stuff.

Water is on the minds of most Californians. San Juan Capistrano is no exception, as residents remain concerned about the reliability and cost of water.

Here are some of my insights into factors that impact the reliability and cost of water service. 

We have just finished a week with no water being imported due to scheduled maintenance work by the Metropolitan Water District of Orange County. I have attended many meetings with water agencies in Orange County, which have discussed the reliability of imported water. Most of those meetings have stressed that municipalities should not be totally dependent upon imported water, if at all possible.

The water being imported through the delta is particularly vulnerable as a result of possible earthquakes, flooding, salt-water intrusion as the oceans rise and environmental factors (Delta Smelt). 

This and previous City Councils have been concerned with providing a reliable source of safe drinking water to the residents. Thus the city decided years ago to become less dependent upon imported water.

This was through a combination of efforts, including the Groundwater Recovery Plant (GWRP) and more wells and additional storage in case there was an interruption of imported water, tiered water rates to encourage conservation, an emphasis on reducing the amount of water used through education and use of recycled water. 

The Groundwater Recovery Plant has been plagued with a number of problems which we are well on the way to solving. There was a problem in the initial design of the plant and this was compounded when and the major wells were shut down and the GWRP was operated at a reduced capacity.

We operate the GWRP on a lease basis and those payments continue at the same rate regardless of how much water is being produced by the plant. Most of the design defects have been resolved, filters have been installed to remove the MTBE, additional wells have been drilled and the plant is now operating at a higher capacity. We expect it to be operating at full capacity (5.2 Million Gallons per Day (MGD)) by this summer.

The greater the output of the plant then the lower the cost of production. The cost of water from the plant is currently higher than that of imported water, but that is the price we are currently paying for increased reliability. As a footnote, the cost of imported water will increase 7.5 percent next year and 5 percent in the following year. Thus it is possible that at some point the cost of imported water and water from the plant will be much nearer in cost. 

One thing not thought of often are the pumping and storage facilities needed in case of an interruption of water to the city to provide sufficient water at high enough pressure and flow to fight fires. Those facilities were paid for mostly through bond sales and the payment for those facilities is part of your monthly water bill.

The annual debt (principle and interest) is more than $2 million per year. Those payments must be made whether you use a drop or water or not. The monthly cost to each ratepayer is about $15. We have recently acquired an interest in the Upper Chiquita Reservoir, as another source of water should there be an interruption from outside sources. Some water from this source was used during our recent outage. 

We are also working on other means of increasing the reliability of the system. We are working on providing a back-up power supply to the Groundwater Recovery Plant should our power sources be interrupted. Some residents require pumps to provide water to them, as gravity feed is not adequate in parts of the city. We have the pumps, but we do not in all cases have an alternate source of electricity. 

An area not talked about much because it is not very exciting is putting aside money to fund replacement of pipes, pumps, motors, reservoirs, etc. Those costs must also be borne by the ratepayer if the system is to remain reliable into the future. 

The city has invested money in an ocean desalination project. The present outlook for it is that the cost of water from desalination is many times more expensive than from our ground water recovery plant, and the present concept may not even be financially sound. However, as part of that project a capacity study of the San Juan Basin is being conducted. This should provide some assurance that we will continue to be able to pump groundwater to the GWRP. 

Thus the cost of water to the business and homeowner is just not the cost of buying or producing safe, clean water but also the cost of backup systems, alternate systems and replacement costs so that your supply of water will not be interrupted today or in the future. 

On a personal note; I have verified that my home has low-flow toilets, I check my lawn watering system for leaks on a frequent basis, and I am replacing my backyard lawn with native plants. 

This letter is of my own creation and does not necessarily reflect the views of the other members of the City Council. 

Larry Kramer

Clint Worthington February 11, 2012 at 11:23 PM
Gosh Mr. Kramer, the City did not recently acquire an interest in the Chiquita Canyon Reservoir, the City sold almost half of it's interest in the Reservoir as the City did not have any money to pay for emergency generators for the GWRP. Here is the Patch story to refresh your memory: http://sanjuancapistrano.patch.com/articles/city-slashes-share-of-emergency-reservoir "The GWRP should be at 5.2 million gallons by this summer". Mr. Kramer, yourself and Mr. Taylor told ust we would be at 7.2 million gallons by last July. Whatever happened to the 7.2 million gallons you promised us last year? Empty promises. "Most of the design defects have been resolved" After eight years of operating this plant, there is still more design defects? How much more? Where do we find this information? How much more will this cost us? Please be transparent and tell us what these remaining defects are and how much more it will cost us? "We operate the plant on a lease basis". It is about time that you told the truth about that and stopped saying that we own the GWRP. Because we don't. It is sad that the residents of our town had to tell you that. "The annual debt payment is (principal and interest) is more than 2 million a year". I believe that figure is closer to 3 million a year. Of course, in that figure you did not include the money collected each month in the amount of $111,000 from the water users for debt payment on a bond that was never issued did you ? Please..
socalfam February 11, 2012 at 11:54 PM
Does the mayor really not know the truth about the Ground Water Recovery Plant and how its driven up our water rates, or is he just making stuff up in the hopes that we residents will swallow it? There are so many inaccuracies in this story that I don't even know where to begin. Bottom line is; we paid to build a plant that we could never afford to begin with, and now learn that we're only leasing it. This plant is so expensive that it will never pay for itself in our lifetimes, despite the city gouging us residents for water bills that we can't afford. For the mayor or anyone else in the city to try and defend this indefensible black hole money pit shows just how tone-deaf they are. Its time to shut the darn thing down and re-negotiate the humongously expensive bond debt with the San Juan Basin Authority, then fire with cause the employees who shoved this nightmare down our collective throats.
Penny Arévalo February 12, 2012 at 02:41 AM
Just a little nit-picky detail. This is not a story. It's clearly labeled "opinion," which I don't consider a story.
ca February 12, 2012 at 04:24 AM
re:arevalo... your comment makes NO sense... what are you trying to say?
Penny Arévalo February 12, 2012 at 05:37 AM
sorry , I probably should have quoted the section to which I was responding: <<There are so many inaccuracies in this story>> I didn't want anybody to confuse this with a news story. That is all.
Clint Worthington February 12, 2012 at 05:58 AM
The comments the Mayor made about recently acquiring an interest in the Chiquita reservoir are killing me. It is bad when you have to reference news articles to the Mayor that the interest was sold back in October-November and not acquired shows he is clearly out of touch.
socalfam February 12, 2012 at 10:58 PM
I understand that it's supposed to be an opinion piece, but what do you do when the mayor makes a number of false and misleading statements in what's labeled as a "Mayor's Message"? None of the inaccuracies stated by the mayor are nit picky. These are major problems, with major consequences for the water users in San Juan. Are you willing to correct the inaccuracies?
Clint Worthington February 13, 2012 at 05:05 AM
Mr. Kramer in regards to the desalination plant, here i the link to the story in the Capistrano Dispatch (sorry Penny but this is BP, Before Patch)http://thecapistranodispatch.com/view/full_story/7434981/article-Turning-on-the-Tap? It is very frustrating Mr. Kramer when you give out so much inaccurate information. Such as the GWRP is to pump 5.2 million gallons by this summer. This story clearly illustrates that 20 months ago this same GWRP was to be pumping 7.2 million gallons. Mr. Kramer, I am sorry, but it is very clear that you are either out of touch or you are giving out very inaccurate information to the public. Which is it Mr. Kramer?

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