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Local News

Candidates for Goleta Water District Board Weigh In on Drought, Billing

Water agencies are a frequent topic of discussion during the ongoing drought, and the Goleta Water District has drawn attention as being the last local jurisdiction to put water use restrictions into effect and struggling through more than a year of technical difficulties with a new online customer billing system.

Four candidates in the Nov. 4 election are vying for two seats on the water board: Bert Bertrando, Jack Cunningham, Charles "Chuck" McClure and Meg West.

Bertrando and Cunningham are both running for re-election while the challengers McClure and West are local landscape architects, both with experience on local public agency boards and commissions.

Bertrando, a retired engineer and director of La Cumbre Mutual Water Company, has served on the board since 2006. He did not attend either of the candidate forums or respond to Noozhawk’s requests for comment.

Cunningham, a retired United Airlines employee and former airport commissioner, has served on the water board since 1995. McClure has local experience as a contractor, architect and businessman and serves on the Goleta Cemetery District board. West serves on Goleta’s Planning Commission and has experience as a contractor, landscape architect and business owner.

The candidates agree that the ongoing drought will be the district’s biggest challenge in the next four years.

West mentioned the importance of drought planning and digging into lessons learned from the current drought to get prepared for the next one.

“That’s a silver lining to these crises, every time we get better prepared and learn something,” she said.

No new meters are being approved because of the district’s SAFE Ordinance, which triggers water use restrictions once Lake Cachuma’s deliveries are reduced, as they are for the water year that started Oct. 1.

In times of plenty, however, “water meters are issued without apparent limit,” McClure said. “Droughts are cyclical. … Therefore with each drought, well, the drought becomes more severe because we have more faucets and fixtures out in the community.”

McClure believes new meters can only be issued with a sustainable water source, such as desalination, reclaimed water that changes wastewater to potable water or a piping system from the more water-abundant north end of the state.

“People often say that it’s too expensive, it can’t be done,” he said. “Not true — we need vision and goal setting and the perseverance to achieve that goal. We can and will do it.”

Looking into the current drought, the district plans to take more recycled water from the Goleta Sanitary District and deliver it by tanker truck to areas that can use it but aren’t connected to the recycled water system, Cunningham said.

“The infrastructure for recycled water doesn’t reach their property so what we’re going to do is take recycled water to their property and let the use it," he said, "and of course we’ll charge but it’ll free up their usage of potable water which makes it better down the road for everybody.”

Additionally, Cunningham pointed to maintaining oversight of the district’s $32.5 million budget and making sure the fines and penalties for violating water use restrictions are administered properly. The more people conserve now, the better off the district will be for the next drought, he added.

“It sounds like I’m talking out of both sides of my mouth because I’m preaching conservation while, the less water that’s used, the less water comes into the district bank account," he said. "That’s not the name of the game — the name of the game is for us trying to live up to our mission, which is to provide an adequate supply of quality water at the least possible price.”

The next big step for the district to cut back on water use will probably be the tiered rate system scheduled for spring, West said, adding that tiered systems have been shown to help cut back water use by making water more expensive or people using a lot of it.

“I’m very committed to keeping water rates low for low water uses like myself and many others who put effort into conserving,” she said.

She supports expanding the rebate programs that encourage drought-tolerant planting and wants to focus on customer service.

“I think a lot of relationships have been damaged with billing issues,” she said. “There’s a long history of the Goleta Water District behaving in ways people don’t like and I’d really like to see a little more effort made in customer service.”

West also wants the district to work more closely with the City of Goleta, saying the two agencies don’t coordinate enough now. She believes her experience with the Planning Commission would help in that regard.

“People are really upset when they’re being asked to let their lawns die and they see a big development going up down the street,” she said. “I think there needs to be a lot better coordination and transparency with the public, why these things are being built during the drought.”

In a more long-term perspective, West supports expanding the reclaimed water lines and looking into a groundwater infiltration program.

McClure said the next drastic step for the district to cut back on water use would be to disallow landscape irrigation, starting with lawns.

“We sincerely hope it does not come to that, but if it should, we must be practical, and exterior water for aesthetics would be the place to make the cut,” he said. “I think the people in the district are responding to the request to use water carefully, though some are still maintaining lawns. The upcoming tiered billing system should help with that.”

However, he does not support “the water police” and fines for people violating the rules.

“I suppose very egregious violators must be reckoned with, but by and large I think compliance should be mostly voluntary unless our situation drastically worsens," he said. "Perhaps it has worsened to the appropriate drastic level, remember I am a challenger not privy to the workings of the agency, other than the meetings I have been attending this year.”

In the long term, the district needs to be proactive about conservation and expanding its water supplies, McClure said.

“I have been writing letters to the editor and talking about de-silting of the reservoirs for years now. Crickets," he said. "Now is the time to dig silt out of the reservoirs.”

He also wants to expand Lake Cachuma’s capacity by gouging out the north and east sides and raising the dam by 1 foot.

He also suggests directing more storm water to the groundwater supply to recharge the aquifer and expand the reclaimed water system.

“Currently, 50 percent of the reclaimed water is sent into the ocean, due to a lack of distribution pipes. That’s sad and should be addressed," he said. "Treat that water one more time and pump it underground and our wells would never run dry.”

All four candidates will be vying for the two seats available on the Nov. 4 ballot to win four-year terms.

“I’d just like to add that, for everyone who hasn’t voted yet — vote for me,” Cunningham said. “I’d like to remain on the board so I can help have these things happen, the aforementioned things.”

West pointed to her long list of endorsements.

“They know that we need informed people who are going to be fair and open to public input and they’ve endorsed me because they think I can do this job,” she said. “I really see in the end, if elected, that there are a lot of opportunities for improvement and I want to look at what opportunities there are for working with the university because their growth is an issue as well, it’s not something the City of Goleta has control over.”

McClure said he is the candidate who wants to encourage conservation and pursue new sources of water for the community.

“The challenge is to create a new, permanent source of water without burdening the ratepayers with large new fees,” he said.

Noozhawk news editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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