Inquiring minds want to know...

August 10, 2012

By Marsha M. Rea

Between now and the election in November, there are a number of issues that we as residents of Santa Paula should be informed about.  They are issues that have lain dormant, disregarded and unresolved over a number of years.  

Mountain View Mayor Mike Kasperzak, President of the League of California Cities, recently said, “The cities of California are committed to open and transparent government. It’s our duty as elected officials to ensure that the people have access to the workings of their local government and business being conducted on their behalf. It’s enshrined in the California State Constitution that the people’s business be conducted in a way that is open.” 

It is our duty, as residents of Santa Paula, to require and support transparency and high standards of practice in the operation of our local government. The goal of this weekly column is to lay out the facts of the issues on a thoroughly documented basis, in order to let you, the readers and voters, make informed decisions about the management of our city.  

A number of the issues at hand are inter-related and, therefore, may seem to be complicated.  I believe that once the facts of each piece are laid out they will become understandable and will lead us to creative solutions that have eluded, or been avoided by our electeds, for various reasons, in recent years.

For example, let us consider the issue of recycled water, now being produced by our very high-tech, expensive water recycling facility (the treatment facility). When the original operational plan for the plant was developed by the city’s Public Works Department, under the leadership of previous Public Works Department heads, the recycled water was to be used to irrigate parks, soccer fields, street-side medians, schools, etc. in Santa Paula.  The plan laid out all of the necessary pipes, pumps and tanks to irrigate the city’s public spaces.  To date none of the provisions of that plan have been put into effect or discussed publicly.  With the current under-staffed state of the Public Works Department, it is quite possible that no one knows this plan exists.  Today all of the city’s recycled water is being unceremoniously dumped into the ground west of the city limits.

The treatment facility generates approximately 3.4 million gallons of recycled water a day.  Over the course of a year that is roughly 3,650 acre-feet of water.  At the open market price of $5,000 to $8,000 per acre-foot for the use of the recycled water as “water rights”, that is an asset worth between $19 million and $30 million, which is literally being poured down the drain.  While one might argue that the water is going into the underground aquifer and is not being lost, it is not benefiting Santa Paula, which currently owns the rights to the recycled water, because our wells are further east, where the water can be pumped to City storage locations. The location of the dumping benefits a few farmers whose wells are somewhere west of the treatment plant; however, the largest benefit is to the City of Ventura, with its wells at Telephone and Wells Road. With the original utilization plan in hand, a demonstrable revenue source, and the state’s strong support for water recycling projects, the city could put together an attractive financing plan and obtain funding to complete the recycled water network. Once the recycled water is being used for irrigation, and the potable (drinking quality) water is “freed up” because it is not being used for irrigation, the limited supply of potable water that the city has can go to serve more residents and future developments (such as Limoneira’s East Area 1, perhaps).  Today drinking quality water is being wasted on irrigation while the irrigation-ready recycled water is being thrown away.  

For an example of possible market opportunities, State law requires CalTrans to purchase recycled water if it is available within a certain distance of a CalTrans right of way. There is, already in place underground, an 18-inch diameter pipeline from the treatment facility to approximately 1,000 feet from the CalTrans right of way (State Route 126) in Santa Paula.  CalTrans is currently using treated, potable water to irrigate the freeway median.  To sell recycled water rights to CalTrans would require building a pumping station, and the completion of the pipeline connection to the right of way.  With the potential funding available, completing this connection could meet a market demand that would bring revenue to the city.  A savvy city administration would determine how to manage an open and transparent process, in partnership with our public sector, to negotiate with potential market partners for maximizing the value of this “wet asset” for the long-range benefit of Santa Paula’s residents.  Remember, we are only talking about recycled, currently wasted, water here.

Now, granted, there are some internal complications in the situation, because the water system in Santa Paula operates as a stand alone “Enterprise Fund”, which we will explore next week in detail.  However, intricacies of the internal accounting are manageable; and with a smart, willing, creative and transparent city administration they can work for the long-range benefit of all of us.  $30 million is an asset value that, if properly and creatively utilized, could go far in improving things here in Santa Paula for years to come.  

As they say on network news, “Stay tuned for future updates”.  We have much more to discuss before the election in November.  Remember: intelligent, inquiring minds want, and have a right to know...

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