[Editor’s note: One in a series of five candidate Q&As for the Goleta Water District board of directors. Click here for the main story. Click here for Harry DeWitt’s Q&A. Click here for Lauren Hanson’s Q&A. Click here for Larry Mills’ Q&A. Click here for Bill Rosen’s Q&A.]

NOOZHAWK: Why are you running for the Goleta Water District board?

JIM MARINO: I am running for the Goleta Water District board of directors because the majority of the current board has lost site of its primary duty. That is to ensure that the current users will have a reliable and safe supply of water well into the future and including the periodic droughts that occur on a regular basis. In addition, the current board is dysfunctional and does not communicate important business to the rate-paying public, which has a right to know what the district is doing or perhaps not doing things they should be doing, like establishing a comprehensive long-range water management plan.

NOOZHAWK: What is the biggest issue facing the board and the district’s ratepayers, and what would you do about it?

JIM MARINO: The biggest issue facing the board of directors is the attempts by Santa Barbara County government and other nearby municipal governments to site high-density housing within the boundaries of the Goleta Water District. This is being done to satisfy state housing mandates that are an attempt to force construction of additional housing — what is being euphemistically called “affordable housing” — onto local cities and counties. It is impossible to force local communities, like the areas of the eastern Goleta Valley, to rezone vacant and agricultural lands to accommodate massive housing developments when it is clear that critical infrastructure like water supplies are not available to serve these developments. In addition to drastically changing the character of the single-family residential and semi-rural nature of those targeted neighborhoods, this housing can hardly be described as “affordable.” I believe the Goleta water board and staff need to directly inform the county and also include planning projections within the Urban Water Management Plan, specifying that they do not have, and will not have, the future safe and reliable water supplies required by state law, to serve any such development or higher-density rezoning being proposed for these vacant lands.
NOOZHAWK: Clean water is still a relatively cheap commodity, but it is becoming more precious with increased development and population. Do you see any future need to raise rates and why?

JIM MARINO: Before any increase in water rates to existing customers are considered there needs to be an earnest effort to find additional sources of water, not only to keep rates down but to ensure adequate supplies in even periodic droughts. In addition, public awareness of the dwindling supplies of water, newer technologies and more efficient uses will enable better and more widespread conservation by existing users. Besides being a finite resource, the availability of water supplies will drive the extent of any development that is envisioned in and for the entire Goleta Valley. We must live within our water means.

NOOZHAWK: How do you reconcile the general need to use less water (conservation), with the district’s need to make profits? Can the district make money even as ratepayers use less water?

JIM MARINO: The district is not a profit-making agency, it is a public-service utility agency. The district must assure that water rates and policies generate sufficient revenue to obtain and deliver water through its delivery systems, including any new infrastructure, as well as ongoing maintenance and overhead or operating expenses, including modest reserves for emergencies and future planning for additional water acquisition and delivery along with the related storage systems. Rate increases are necessarily a last resort and there exists a number of measures to control rates for agricultural uses and new developments. For example, farmers using modern drip irrigation and water-recovery systems could be given a more favorable rate as an incentive to utilize such systems. Similarly, future new users could be required to pay a higher tiered rate or higher meter connection fees, etc. Lastly, there is a need to determine and perhaps meter all wells within the district to ensure that private wells are not exceeding the permissible amounts of water to be drawn by overlying land owners who do so without paying anything to the district.

NOOZHAWK: There’s a lot of disagreement over the SAFE ordinance, the policy that ensures a buffer in times of drought, and recent reports regarding groundwater levels — whether we have enough to satisfy SAFE and continue to plan for new allotments. Where do you stand on the issue of SAFE and the 1972 groundwater levels required by the ordinance to be reached before new allotments can be made?

JIM MARINO: The SAFE ordinance, like many statutes, is subject to interpretation based on the “letter of the law” and the “spirit and intent of the law.” The SAFE ordinance was enacted by the voters of the district to ensure as best as possible that the current and existing users would have a safe and reliable source of water in the future, even in times of drought. It prohibits the drafting of groundwater from the central basin unless the groundwater level is at least as high as the 1972 level. The board, in its discretion, can issue new can-and-will-serve commitments to anywhere from none to 1 percent of the available water supply each year. Such future long-term commitments are also dependent to some extent on the availability of state water, which is inherently unreliable because the same conditions producing a local drought are often regional in scope and limit state water availability and reliability as well. The SAFE ordinance does not allow for the addition of new can-and-will-serve commitments unless the the groundwater level is above the 1972 level and other water is available to inject into the basin to maintain the drought buffer above the 1972 level on a two-thirds ratio. There is no permitted carry-over or accumulations of the 1 percent limit on any new connections from year to year.  Whether any new connections at all are authorized by the board requires the discretionary evaluation by the the board and district staff annually as to the actual level of the drought buffer water supply, stored in the basin, and the availability of other waters to replenish the basin if it is drawn down.

NOOZHAWK: How would you clear up the confusion?

JIM MARINO: The confusion in the minds of the public can be cleared up by simply explaining, in plain language, what the SAFE ordinance they enacted was intended to do and how it operates. A simple insert with such an explanation can be inserted into the monthly bill sent to ratepayers and posted on the district’s Web site.