Rancho Santa Fe water district continues to explore possibility of collaboration with neighboring districts


By Joe Tash

Santa Fe Irrigation District officials are continuing to talk with neighboring water districts to explore potential areas of collaboration, but it could take a while for those talks to result in tangible partnerships.

On Dec. 18, two Santa Fe board members and the district’s general manager met with their counterparts from the Olivenhain Municipal Water District, whose territory wraps around Santa Fe on three sides.

A similar meeting was held in November with officials from the San Dieguito Municipal Water District, which is a subsidiary of the city of Encinitas.

Staff members of the three districts have been directed by their respective boards of directors to work together on ideas for partnerships, which can then be formalized through board action. An update on the progress of the talks was given at the Santa Fe board meeting on Thursday, Dec. 19.

After the meeting, Santa Fe general manager Michael Bardin said the agencies can work together on such areas as developing water resources and joint contracts for equipment and supplies.

“These are the first couple of steps in a process of looking at what things we can do in the interest of our ratepayers,” Bardin said.

The initiative was launched after Santa Fe directors held a workshop meeting in September to discuss consolidation with neighboring districts. One potential model was a joint powers authority formed by water agencies in Fallbrook and Rainbow, which is on a course to save several hundred thousand dollars this year by reducing administrative overhead.

However, Santa Fe, San Dieguito and Olivenhain are not currently exploring shared governance, but rather areas where they can work together while remaining separate entities. The agencies already have partnerships in place; for example, Santa Fe and San Dieguito jointly own and operate a water treatment plant, and Santa Fe and Olivenhain participate in joint training activities.

One potential area for collaboration would be developing sources of recycled water, or wastewater that is treated for use in landscape irrigation, but is not suitable for drinking. Santa Fe is interested in extending recycled water service to the eastern end of its territory, such as the Rancho Santa Fe golf course, Bardin said.

Looking out longer term, local water agencies may explore “indirect potable reuse” or “direct potable reuse,” said Bardin, which is using highly treated wastewater for human consumption. Indirect means the water would first be introduced into a reservoir or aquifer for a specified period of time before reuse, while direct means the water receives appropriate levels of treatment before being introduced to the potable water system.

“That’s the future,” he said.