Dear David Ross, editor, Times-Advocate:
Thank you for allowing Rincon del Diablo MWD the opportunity to provide information on our current efforts to become a sewer agency. We believe it is important to provide background information and explain the process accurately and objectively.
The Rincon del Diablo Municipal Water District (District) held a public scoping session on September 22 on the Initial Study of the Programmatic Environmental Impact Report (PEIR) tied to the Sewer Master Plan being developed and required by LAFCO as part of the process to become a sewer agency. After a year of evaluation and public workshops, the Board of Directors elected in 2015 to pursue exercising latent power to become a sewer agency in the unincorporated areas of Harmony Grove and Eden Hills. This is the same area in which the new Harmony Grove Village development is being constructed and two potential communities are being evaluated by the County. The decision to become a sewer agency is part of the District’s long term strategic plan, will provide residents/customers in the area a single water related utility provider, will assist in improving water quality in the basin, and positions the District for future water resourcing and drought-hardening as those guidelines are developed.
There were 37 attendees (who signed in) at the September 22 Scoping Session. As a note, prior to this Scoping Session, District staff conducted outreach and met with several local community groups to discuss the District’s efforts and upcoming processes. No details of the Sewer Master Plan were available at that time. In notifying constituents and parties regarding the comment period on the PEIR Initial Study, the District extended effort above and beyond established public noticing requirements, including sending over 250 letters to all District water customers in the Harmony Grove and Eden Hills area.
The purpose of the Scoping Session was to address the PEIR Initial Study, however, the majority of questions asked were related to a different subject, proposed new development in the area. Although it is clear that EFHGTC and FEVRD are against new developments in the area, the District has taken no position on these concerns. Unfortunately, several attendees at the meeting may have misinterpreted the explanation of why we were doing this process: that CEQA and stipulations associated with developing master plans and PEIRs require addressing ALL potential options. Since the two proposed developments have already been included in the County planning process, the District is required to evaluate and incorporate the potential of that sewer load in our reviews, as well as all area that may be included in the future sewer agency boundaries. This includes the potential sewer lines to those on septic systems in the area given there is some interest in having sewer replace failing septic systems. In developing these plans/documents, the District’s consultant evaluated the data and provided the most efficient, cost effective, and prudent option(s), which are the end goal results of the master planning process. The District has a fiduciary responsibility to evaluate options that have the lowest long term costs for ratepayers. There has been no decision made on what the sewer system will look like in the future, given that the ultimate decisions on the proposed developments resides with others.
Though there are several inaccuracies in the last letter to the Editor and we will not address all of these here, the District is pleased to see that the representative from EFHGTC has validated this is not a land grab, since the area being addressed is already within the Rincon Water boundaries and the District already serves water and recycled water in this area. It is very important to note that the District is not a land use approval agency, that authority resides completely with the County. Further, the County is the entity which will determine if the two proposed developments (or any future unknown developments) get approved; the District is only responsible for providing services. As stated, development of this Sewer Master Plan and PEIR is required for the LAFCO process, and is about identifying the most efficient and effective service to current and potential future customers, fulfilling long term strategic plans, and positioning the District for alternative resource options.
In regards to other issues raised, unfortunately, the EFHGTC representatives continue to make comments completely out of context. The fiscal items quoted are from the portion of the rate study on financial outlook if NO ACTION or RATE increases were passed. The Board, however, did take action. In June 2015, the Board set new rates for the next five years, providing long-term stability to continue to provide services while maintaining infrastructure. What the EFHGTC letter fails to mention is that the District paid off all former debt in 2013, has an aggressive capital program designed to maintain the system assets in excellent long term working condition (given the District experiences approximately 3-percent water loss as compared to overall industry average of 15-percent), has kept District related expenses on a level basis the last 7 years, has no markup on wholesale water rates, and uses low-cost financing as part of the overall financial plan. All these actions reduce rate impacts to the customer. Additionally, all meetings discussing rates were publicly held and fully noticed to allow customers to be engaged in the process and decision. The District has been and continues to be on solid financial grounds, with excellent fiscal policy and professional financial management; most recent audits are available on the District’s website at www.rinconwater.org. Additionally, the District’s leadership team has years of experience in designing, building and operating wastewater facilities as well as water facilities.
The District understands the concerns of the EFHGTC and FEVRD groups and is in communication with the County regarding any past agreements. The ultimate decision of what development is approved in the area and how sewer service will ultimately be supported can only be determined when the County makes decisions in regards to the proposed developments. As part of the District’s long term strategic plan, the Board of Directors made the decision to become a sewer agency, position the District for potential future resources, and assist in improving the water quality of the basin area. The Sewer Master Plan and PEIR are documents required for the process the District must undertake to exercise its latent powers afforded by municipal water code. Whatever the outcome on the County land use approval process, it is still the District’s intent to become a sewer agency and provide the most cost effective and efficient service to our customers while working collaboratively with all parties concerned.