The Coast News Group
Jennifer DeMeo
Jennifer DeMeo to was first woman to serve as board president. Courtesy photo

Fallbrook Public Utility District elects first female president

FALLBROOK — The Fallbrook Public Utility District Board of Directors unanimously elected Jennifer DeMeo to serve as president, making her the first woman in the district’s history to lead the board.

DeMeo was officially seated at the Dec. 7 meeting.

The utility district will be 100 years old in June 2022 and to date, has had only two other women serve on the board — Pat Knock, who served from 1996 to 1998, and Mary McNeil, who served from 1998 to 2002. McNeil served as vice president in 2000.

“I am excited to serve our ratepayers in this new role and to be the first woman to lead our board,” DeMeo said. “It’s an honor. And I want to enhance community outreach.”

The Fallbrook water district was formed June 5, 1922, by residents who wanted to deliver water from local area wells along the San Luis Rey River. It covered only 500 acres.

As Fallbrook began to grow, the district responded by developing additional groundwater supplies from both the San Luis Rey and Santa Margarita rivers.

Since DeMeo was first elected to the board in 2016, Fallbrook Public Utility District made progress on resolving a 70-years-old legal fight to use local, cheaper water from the Santa Margarita River. After losing the rights to that water during the fight, the district was forced to buy expensive, imported water. Today, local water is expected to flow from Fallbrook taps by early 2022, providing customers relief from escalating imported water costs.

Also under DeMeo’s tenure, the board permanently preserved the 1,384 acres of hiking trails along the Santa Margarita River, ensuring public access and the use of the trails in perpetuity.

In the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s, the district’s population and water demands were increasing. However, water demands and sales have since decreased dramatically due to droughts. Pipes and infrastructure still have to be maintained, so this has put pressure on Fallbrook water rates and shifted the district’s focus on controlling rising imported water costs.

To alleviate this, the district is pursuing purchasing imported water from Eastern Municipal Water District in Riverside County and detaching from the San Diego County Water Authority. The move, though legally complicated, would save $3 to $4 million per year.

“Our board is aligned on this issue,” DeMeo said. “We hear the pleas from customers and as ratepayers ourselves, we feel the pinch, especially during this financially challenging pandemic.”

DeMeo was re-elected to her second term on the board last month. Since 2018, DeMeo has been Fallbrook Public Utility District’s representative on the Association of California Water Agencies Joint Powers Insurance Authority insurance board, or JPIA.

The longtime Fallbrook resident moved from Escondido to live in the town she describes as “out of the way, with a village feel.”