[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 Jim Marino’s Q&A. Click here for Bill Rosen’s Q&A.]
NOOZHAWK: Why are you running for the Goleta Water District board?
LARRY MILLS: I have served on the GWD board for 13 years. During that time I was successful in turning the water district around so that it was a utility company just like any other utility. If you need water you go to the district, pay a fee and they give you a meter. There is a group trying to take over the board and turn back the hands of time to the 1980s when water was unsuccessfully used to control growth. Because of this I am running again. I do not want to be in the situation again when a drought comes and we run out of water. (1991)
NOOZHAWK: What is the biggest issue facing the board and the district’s ratepayers, and what would you do about it?
LARRY MILLS: The biggest issue is making sure that we have enough water available to all district customers for present and future needs. The GWD is different today than we were during the last drought. Lake Cachuma is full, the ground water is full, we have more than 200 percent more state water rights than we have stipulated capacity, our reclamation plant is running well with extra capacity to expand and, if needed, we can work with Santa Barbara with the desalination plant. A new study needs to be done to make sure our supplies are adequate in supporting the Goleta Growth Management Plan. We need to look 20 years ahead for proper planning.
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?
LARRY MILLS: Water rates should stay constant with the exception of raises due to inflation, possible surprises in supporting the aging water system, and possible upgrades to our processing plant due to ever-changing state and federal requirements. After the state water bond and the reclamation bond are paid off, it is possible that rates will come down.
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?
LARRY MILLS: As we found out in the late 1980s, there is a direct correlation to the need to raise rates due to a drop in water sales. Customers were great during the last big drought and the consumption was cut in half. Since that time an effort has been made to slowly raise the fixed-rate part of the bill and charge for water used separately. The theory is that the fixed cost of the district will be paid out of the fixed part of the user fee. This allows water usage to fluctuate without a drop in revenue. More work is needed in this area. This also allows for an incentive-based tiered rate.
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?
LARRY MILLS: SAFE is the state water initiative that was passed by the voters in 1991. For Goleta this allowed 4,500 acre-feet of state water to be imported for our use. The initiative dictates how much new water can be issued in any given year and in part was tied to the groundwater levels. For those of us who remember back to 1989 when the groundwater was all used up, this issue should be very important. Prior to 1991, the district used the groundwater to support its daily demand. When I was elected in 1991, I instituted a change that stopped the pumping and allowed the water basin to recharge. The water basin is now used as a backup supply in cases of emergency, which include quality issues. The basin is now full and in most cases is above the 1972 levels. This was substantiated in detail by an outside government agency (U.S. Geological Survey) in a recent board meeting. Unfortunately, the basin is not flat so the monitoring wells in the west end by the airport are overflowing while the ones on the east end are lower. In conclusion, I support SAFE.
NOOZHAWK: How would you clear up the confusion?
LARRY MILLS: Have some seminars for the concerned public so things can be explained by professionals who are independent from the water district.