COMMUNITY COMMENTARY: Water district meeting challenges

Santa Fe Irrigation District is the local government agency that provides water service to Rancho Santa Fe, Fairbanks Ranch and the city of Solana Beach. On Nov. 18, the
district approved water rates for 2011 after a year of careful consideration and a difficult
decision making process. At the same time, a cap on potential rate increases in 2012-2013 was set that will be subject to review by the board of directors each year prior to implementation. While the decision to raise water rates is not popular, failure to do so could adversely impact everyone in the community. There are many complex issues confronting the district as we start this new year. The primary issue we face is water supply uncertainty due to drought impacts, federal court restrictions on the delivery of imported water, and the resulting allocation of Colorado River and Northern California Water to the San Diego region. Supply uncertainty, the need to invest in aging infrastructure to ensure reliability and economic conditions create an environment
that is one of the most difficult periods of time for water utilities in the history of California.
Water agencies face challenges dramatically different than five years ago.
Despite water shortages and the economic downturn experienced nationwide, the district has remained strong. We have maintained our financial strength and are recognized nationally for our financial management, policies and reporting. While many cities and states have experienced traumatic financial deterioration, SFID has demonstrated the ability to succeed in the most difficult of times. In December 2008, Standard & Poor’s upgraded the SFID credit rating to “AAA,” the highest level. SFID is the only water agency in San Diego with a “AAA” rating and one of only 15 water agencies in California.
Over the past five years, the district board of directors has worked diligently to ensure the reliability of the water system infrastructure and to identify initiatives to augment water supplies.
Even while dealing with recent supply shortages, the district has assessed the condition of
existing infrastructure, prioritized and implemented critical capital improvements. The district coordinates with other agencies to protect our local Lake Hodges water supply, identify and implement recycled water projects and support alternative supply projects such as the proposed Carlsbad Desalination Project. Protection and development of local water supplies are key initiatives of the district and ensure local control of these resources.
Today, water is a resource under stress and we are being forced to change how we think about water. Even with the higher rates now in effect, the district’s water rates are in the bottom half of all water agencies in the San Diego region while we continue to provide reliable, high-quality water and excellent customer service. To ensure long-term fiscal sustainability, the district will continue to assess all of its operations, programs and projects. Prioritizing expensive infrastructure replacement projects, managing internal costs (including labor and benefits), ensuring efficient operations and dealing with water supply uncertainties will be key to successfully meeting the challenges this new decade holds. As an elected official, I welcome public interest in the business of the district and the input we receive is invaluable as we work to carry out our mission. This mission will be guided by the responsible stewardship of our elected board of directors and informed, thoughtful, public policy making.

Michael T. Hogan is president of the board of directors of the Santa Fe Irrigation District.

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