We did not throw like-minded people into the grand jury, we swear!
But on Wednesday, with no prompting, an Orange County grand jury called on two of the water giants in our compact little county to pull themselves together, give up their expensive holdings, and form a unified, unified regional water authority at the county level to finally speak out. c – and this is the color of the grand jury – “One vote.”
“Ronald Reagan once said, ‘No government has ever voluntarily reduced its size,'” the report says. “However, it is important that Orange County water providers consolidate their resources and establish a unified voice to more effectively lead the county in its water policy and planning….
“(I) it’s time to coordinate strategies to conserve water resources, develop new water systems and infrastructure, and prepare for possible extended drought, natural disasters, and government-mandated water cuts.”
GJ focused No on the water 29 Orange County retailers – that is, water areas and cities that sell water to you, the buyer – or rather, through their two water wholesalers, who supply wet things that these cities and water areas then sell to you, the buyer.
The Orange County Water District, which manages the vast groundwater basin under the northern and central OC, and the Orange County Municipal Water District, which imports water from Los Angeles’ giant and legendary metropolitan water district, already share an office (18700 Ward St. , Fountain Valley), a shared mission (delivering water to the thirsty people of Orange County!) and even, you know, a secretary.
But they are two different agencies, with two different boards of directors, two different general managers, two different employees, and two different ways of meeting the same need.
OCWD owns a vast infrastructure that sucks water out of the ground – not to mention high-tech equipment that treats wastewater and injects it back into the ground to renew supplies – while the Municipality owns, well, not much actually.
The municipality is essentially a go-between, and for years it fought to secede from the counties of the Southern District, which felt they were accumulating too much money and spending too much of it; and casting a nasty look at the many attempts to merge the two agencies over the years.
“While the processes for supplying bulk groundwater and imported water may be very different, complex and should remain separate in the CC, the Orange County Grand Jury determined that all water sources are interconnected and would best be managed by a single government agency.” says in the report. “All the water that goes into the OC taps looks the same, whether it’s imported water or groundwater, so why do we need two wholesale agencies?”
The future of a reliable water supply is at risk as we experience the worst drought in 1,200 years, he continued. A unified governance structure is needed, either by merging the two agencies or by forming a new water agency.
“While any consolidation or formation of a new water agency will come with political, administrative and operational challenges, the OCGJ has concluded that the time has finally come for Orange County to act with “one voice on water.” “
OCWD is fine.
“It’s been studied and it’s a concept whose time has come,” said Steve Sheldon, president of the OCWD board of directors. “Due to drought and declining water supplies, the grand jury report highlights the need for Orange County to speak unanimously with state, state, and federal legislators on critical water issues and regulations.”
But it seems that the opinion of the Municipality has not changed much.
“The perspective of One Voice is very idealistic and sounds great,” said Megan Yu Schneider, president of the municipal board of directors. “But both agencies have a lot of different members. Some rely almost 100% on groundwater, while others rely almost 100% on imported water. Among them now it is difficult to find a single voice.
“What will consolidation bring? You still need different people to focus on different missions. It doesn’t necessarily have to do with cost savings when you look at benefits, retirement, logistics. These are not small obstacles. You won’t get rid of any problems by getting rid of two agencies.”
More and better cooperation between agencies is needed, she said.
Damon Micalizzi, spokesman for the municipality, said the water importer would review the grand jury’s findings “and reconsider whether it makes sense to participate in the consolidation process. However, I don’t see how things have changed since we last looked into this.”
At first glance, it seems simple and easy to do, but it was considered several times and not implemented not because of difficulty or complexity, but simply because it does not work, he said. Bigger doesn’t mean better; costs may actually increase for taxpayers; and Orange County could lose its seat on the Metropolitan Council (which is the biggest sandbox for Waterworld players).
This is a grand jury and many before him have heard the same arguments and anticipated them.
“In general, supporters of this change are concerned about the lack of political will and that the “defend your territory” philosophy will get in the way of doing the right thing to ensure a reliable water supply in the future,” the report says.
But the current structure is dysfunctional, providing redundant services at excessive cost, and resulting in missed opportunities. Desalination is a good example: although desalination projects can affect a county’s water supply, the two agencies weigh them and their impact independently.
The benefits of a single water lord include central planning for emergency supplies; strengthening coordination between the northern and southern districts; cost savings by eliminating duplication of administrative, professional, consulting, lobbying and other costs; and exceptional leadership in conservation strategies, community outreach and education, the grand jury said.
Innocent bystander Pier Swan, director of the Irwin Ranch Water District (which has successfully swallowed up several small water districts), sees the way forward.
“Their responsibilities and scope are quite different, and full consolidation is going to be a bumpy road,” he said in an email. “Perhaps it would be better initially to form a JPA (Joint Authority) of two districts, each retaining exclusive control over its core functions with a consolidated governance structure and joint assemblies. Over time, the number of directors may be reduced, and in the long term they may be fully merged.”
Whatever the case, the grand jury said the county would be better served by “one voice” speaking about its water supply.