Santa Fe Irrigation District announces hiring of new general manager

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The Santa Fe Irrigation District has hired a new general manager to lead the district, following the retirement in December of long-time general manager Michael Bardin.

Albert Lau, currently the director of engineering and planning with the Padre Dam Municipal Water District in East County, will assume his new role on Monday, March 4. The Santa Fe district provides water to about 20,000 residents of Rancho Santa Fe, Solana Beach and Fairbanks Ranch.

At a meeting on Thursday, Jan. 17, the board of directors for the Santa Fe district unanimously approved an employment agreement with Lau, said Michael Hogan, board president.

Under the agreement approved by the board, Lau will earn $215,000 per year, and be eligible for a 4 percent salary increase following his first annual evaluation by the board in July 2020.

Lau has worked for the Padre Dam agency since 2000. In all, he has 24 years of experience in the water and wastewater industry, said Hogan. In his current position, he is responsible for planning, engineering, capital improvements, contract negotiations, and interfacing with elected officials and the public.

"Speaking on behalf of the board, we are excited to have Albert Lau on board as the new leader of the organization," said Hogan.

Among his duties at Padre Dam, which serves residents in the Santee-Lakeside area, was overseeing a $500 million project to convert wastewater to potable water, known as the East County Advanced Water Purification Program, said Hogan.

The project, which is currently in the planning and permitting process, involves multiple agencies and would be the first of its kind in California. When up and running, the program will supply some 30 percent of East County's drinking water, Hogan said.

"It's one of the more innovative water supply projects in San Diego County," said Hogan. "I think that project provides insight into the knowledge of Mr. Lau and his qualifications."

Currently, the Santa Fe district is part of a study with other North County water agencies, that seeks to develop new, local water supplies. Lau will be participating in those efforts in his new role as general manager, Hogan said.

Lau holds a bachelor's degree in civil engineering from Cal Poly Pomona, a master's in civil engineering from the University of Colorado, and an MBA from San Diego State University.

Lau's hiring culminated a six-month search for a replacement for Bardin, who served as general manager of the Santa Fe district for 14 years.

Also at Thursday's meeting, the board discussed a path forward after a majority voted 3-2 in December to reject a proposed new rate plan, which would have allowed rate increases averaging 3 percent per year over the next three years.

Hogan said district staff prepared a financial forecast, which showed that for the next six months, the district can maintain operations with its current rates, without dipping into reserves. After that time, he said, he district will have to tap reserves to make up shortfalls caused by rate increases charged by the San Diego County Water Authority, the district's wholesale water supplier, and the San Elijo Joint Powers Authority, which provides recycled water.

The board's goal is to resolve its rate issues within the next six months, Hogan said. A workshop will be held soon, where board members can discuss the rate situation, and ask questions about the recent "cost of service study" that was used to prepare the proposed three-year rate plan.