New directors to join Rancho Santa Fe water district board


By Joe Tash

Two new directors will join the Santa Fe Irrigation District board next month, and among the issues they identified as top priorities are setting rates and conserving water in the face of an ongoing statewide drought.

Augustus “Augie” Daddi and Marlene King will be sworn in for four-year terms in early December, and they will join the water district’s board at its regular meeting on Dec. 18. The district provides water to about 19,400 residents of Rancho Santa Fe, Fairbanks Ranch and Solana Beach.

The district has a “cost of service” study under way, which the board will use to determine future rates. No rate increases were imposed for 2014 or 2015, although rates have risen steeply over the past decade. However, because of rising costs from the district’s water suppliers, officials have said they anticipate rate increases in the future.

As for conservation, a drought that has gripped California for the past three years could lead to water rationing across the state unless rainfall totals increase this winter. While a portion of the water Santa Fe uses to serve its customers comes from Lake Hodges, most of the district’s supply is purchased from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

That agency may impose “allocations” — meaning a fixed amount to its customers — as early as January, said Santa Fe board President Michael Hogan. Hogan, who was unopposed in his re-election bid this fall, will also begin a new four-year term on the water district board in December.

“The pressing issue and priority as we start the new year is managing the drought conditions and the impact that will have on our district,” said Hogan.

If allocations are imposed, the district will have to evaluate whether additional, more stringent water-use restrictions will be needed, Hogan said. This summer, the district moved to a Level 2 drought response, which included a limit of three days per week for watering outdoor landscaping, along with other restrictions.

The focus on water conservation comes in the wake of a report issued earlier this month by the California Water Resources Control Board, which showed that, during the month of September 2014, the Santa Fe Irrigation District had the highest per-capita water use in the state.

The state per-capita figures, which were issued for the first time, showed that on average, Santa Fe customers used 584 gallons per person, per day. The daily per-capita use by Santa Fe’s neighboring districts, Olivenhain and San Dieguito (which includes Encinitas) was 250 and 154, respectively, according to the state report.

In the United States, daily per-capita water usage averages between 80 and 100 gallons per day, according to the web site of the U.S. Geological Survey, a federal government agency.

Santa Fe general manager Michael Bardin posted a statement on the district’s website, which said it is “not appropriate” to compare per-capita figures from different water districts, unless such factors as rainfall/temperature, population density, local zoning regulations, community character and socio-economic measures are considered.

The state’s per-capita figures came up for discussion at the district’s Nov. 20 board meeting.

Director Andy Menshek, who represents Division 5, which is in Solana Beach, did not seek re-election and will step down from the board in December. Menshek said the state figures point to an inequity in the district’s rates, because residents of Solana Beach use much less water than their counterparts in Rancho Santa Fe, which has larger home lots and requires more outdoor landscape irrigation. Therefore, he said, those who use less water should not have to pay as large a share of the district’s costs.

Particularly egregious, said Menshek, is one parcel that uses some 50 acre-feet of water per year, or enough for more than 100 families, based on the USGS averages.

Bardin said he has been hearing from customers that they are concerned that rate hikes and water-use restrictions will make it difficult for them to maintain their properties, in which they have invested large amounts of money for landscaping.

“That’s a no-fly zone for this guy,” said Menshek. “To me, that’s a very hollow argument.”

Daddi, who will assume Menshek’s Division 5 seat, said he agrees that the district’s lowest water users may be paying more than they should. That issue will be addressed by the cost of service study now under way, he said, which could lead to changes in the district’s rate structure.

“We need to find out why we are so high. Why are we the highest water users in the state?” Daddi said.

King, whose division includes Fairbanks Ranch and part of Rancho Santa Fe, won the election based on unofficial results, which await certification by the county Registrar of Voters. She said the district needs to work with its largest water users to reduce their usage, which would include making sure their sprinkler systems operate efficiently and do not waste water.

“We simply have to cut back their usage and be efficient in these drought conditions,” she said.

The board has asked staff to come up with a better profile of the district’s water usage and identify those who use the most, so that the district can work with them on conservation measures, said Hogan.

“Yes, it’s an issue we need to address,” Hogan said.