The Rancho Santa Fe Post

June Water News… from the desk of Marlene King, S.F.I.D. Director Div. 3

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Santa Fe Irrigation District May 18th Board Meeting:  Staff presented their final report on fiscal year 2018 Budget.  There were no substantive changes from last month’s initial presentation of the budget.  Staff had just received projections from San Diego County Water Authority for their 2018 wholesale water increase pass throughs.  These wholesale rates will translate into 3-4% increases to District water rates, in addition to the January 1, 2018 water rate increases which will be considered by the Board toward the end of this year.  (Next month staff should be able to provide more detailed numbers of how the wholesale increases will specifically influence rates by meter sizes.)  A public hearing to adopt the budget will be held at the June 15, 2018 Board meeting, starting at 8:30 am.  All are welcome to attend and give public testimony.

The May 25th edition of the Rancho Santa Fe Review did a good job of highlighting some of the divergent Board opinion about proposed third year rate increases ostensibly adopted by the Board a year ago.  I say, “ostensibly”, because when the Board adopted the three year rate structure a year ago, legally the Board cannot vote an increase higher than the adopted rate structure, but it is legally allowed to adopt rates lower than the adopted three-year structure.  Elected to represent the interests of Div. 3 – Fairbanks Ranch and the eastern half of the Covenant – I am concerned that the adopted rate structure, which I did not vote to approve, was developed in such a way that resulted in the first two years of the three year plan not replenishing reserves, even though the public information provided customers said the proposed three year rate structure would replenish reserves, in each of the three years, to fund necessary infrastructure.  This past rainy season provided sufficient Lake Hodges local water which theoretically allows at least the third year of the rates to start replenishing reserves.  However, some Directors are now questioning whether the third year rate increase should be lowered to address customer unrest with the rate structure adopted by a 3-2 vote a year ago.  The May Board packet included some preliminary numbers on the hypothetical effect of lowering third year rates on funding reserves.  As had happened when the previous 12%, 12%, 12% rate increase was adjusted downward in the last two years by a previous Board, reserve funding was cut.  In my opinion that kicked the can down the road.  It will be interesting to see how this Board discussion progresses in the next several months.  

Did you know the water you are drinking is coming from a different source?  Historically, the imported raw water treated by S.F.I.D. was water off the Colorado River.  With this year’s high rainfall, the District is now receiving State Water Project water from Northern California.  Receiving SWP water helps to take some pressure off the still historically low volumes in Lake Mead, forestalling the Bureau of Land Reclamation from imposing its will on state allocations. 

An interesting effect of receiving SWP water was noted by District staff in their April 2017 Operations Report:  

“Near the end of April 2017, Metropolitan Water District (MWD) began to transition imported raw water deliveries from Colorado River Water Supplies to State Project Water.  Utilizing an on-line water quality analyzer, operations staff noticed that treated water total trihalomethanes (TTHMs) in the finished water at the R. E. Badger facilities starting to increase with MWD’s raw water blend change.  TTHMs are disinfection byproducts that are formed when organics in the water come into contact with chlorine. 

Upon further investigation, operation and laboratory staff identified that the source of this increase was MWD’s chlorination of the water discharged from Lake Skinner into the raw water aqueduct system.  MWD chlorinates raw water discharged from Lake Skinner to control the spread of quagga mussels (an invasive aquatic mussel that can rapidly multiply and clog intake screens).  Colorado River water supplies contain less organic matter and do not form the same levels of TTHMs when chlorinated.  State Project Water contains higher concentrations of organic matter and rapidly forms TTHMs when chlorinated.  Once TTHMs are formed, they are difficult to remove in a conventional water treatment plant process. 

Operations staff made blend water changes to compensate for increased raw water disinfection by-product levels to ensure that we supply water to our customers that reliably complies with State and Federal Drinking Water Standards.  We are currently working with San Diego County Member Agencies, SDCWA and MWD to evaluate if other control options are available to minimize the formation of these by-products in our imported raw water supply so we can resume normal operations.” 

Increasingly warm temperatures are resulting in early melting of the Northern California snowpack:

“2017 features at least the fifth consecutive winter where a below-average fraction of precipitation fell as snow (as opposed to rain.)  A flurry of recent research strongly suggests the recent observations like these are indeed linked to California’s long-term warming trend – and that snowpack losses are expected to accelerate further over the next few decades.”  Daniel Swain @ weatherwest.com

As you might recall, this early melting snowpack was the tipping point that caused Lake Oroville operators to release waters that rather quickly resulted in the break-up of the spillway and emergency spillway.  Water managers will continue to be challenged to re-think previously adopted protocols regarding precipitation and snowpack.  In the “old days” a good California snowpack meant slowly melting water flowing into reservoirs during the summer season.  Snowpack that melts early exerts pressure if reservoirs are at near capacity, and is more likely to result in evaporation losses.  Water in the west is changing…