Clarifying the Sweetwater mission

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I read with keen attention and a slight sense of relief, an editorial letter by long-time civic leader, Mr. Peter Watry, dated Nov. 29, 2018, entitled, “Empty Promise.” It’s one of the few opportunities where I can provide direct information in order to resolve a common misconception about water rates and service.

I’ll take Mr. Watry’s premises in the order presented.

The cost of the water service, as Mr. Watry points out is directly related to costs; and, in order to cover these costs, rates are enacted by the board under a Proposition 218 notice. However, instead costs can be lowered by using existing resources and not necessarily by raising water rates.

One-way the board can lower costs is buying less expensive recycled water rather than “full priced” potable. And use this recycled water to irrigate golf courses, parks, and freeway landscaping. This resource makes good business sense and is an environmentally friendly practice to irrigate “green spaces” with recycled water rather than drinking water; it’s a cost savings measure benefiting all.

As an experienced water engineer, director-elect Hector Martinez connected a steadfast and confident campaign message that prioritizes low costs both as a campaign promise and as a solid policy initiative. Mr. Martinez is now beholden to ratepayers by having a vote on Sweetwater Board. By winning election, he now must embody the choice of what his division wants: a low water-rate champion and a strong supporter for system maintenance. Moreover, his technical background as an U.S. Army water specialist and later, a civil engineer, makes him a valuable addition to rate-payers because he can identify further cost savings.

Director-elect Martinez has never proposed what Mr. Watry calls, a reduction of “preventive maintenance.” But rather, he’s is in favor of finding new and innovative ways to save money (reduce costs) in the long-run. One campaign trail discussion is a type of “directional bored pipe,” beginning at Loveland Reservoir down to Sweetwater treatment plant in Spring Valley. A bored pipe allows Sweetwater to transfer water to Sweetwater Reservoir from Loveland at any time of the year.

A pipe like this can save millions of dollars in water costs. As it stands, the method to transfer water from Loveland is via a “bunger-valve” that can only be opened, under federal regulation, during March due to environmental concerns. It’s a rough journey of about 13-miles over open scrub and riverine landscape. Not surprisingly, water released under this method can evaporate and be lost to infiltration at an almost fifty-percent rate. In addition, its water release can cause flooding issues along Sweetwater River impacting both residents and business.

Comparing Sweetwater Authority to San Diego City Water’s deferred maintenance mismanagement is a false equivalence. San Diego City Water is notorious for water main breaks and the origins are multiple—deferred maintenance is one of the major causes of water main breaks. In San Diego’s defense, they have a multitude of city services to grapple: fire, police, parks and recreation, sewer, etc.
Water is our only business.

Sweetwater Authority can limit water costs and maintain the highest standards of delivery well above industry standards. If memory serves me right, last year we had a total of four-water leaks in the entire system—an industry low.
Sweetwater’s mission has always been clean and drinkable water at an affordable price.

Our new-Board will continue to serve Chula Vista, National City, and Bonita with the highest quality water via world-class service. In this mission, we will not waver.

José F. Cerda resides in Chula Vista.

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