OP-ED: Protecting Whittier’s water supply through accountable & fiscally responsible leadership
Central Basin Municipal Water District, the wholesale water agency responsible for delivering Metropolitan Water District drinking water to southeast Los Angeles County is in chaos. The District, with a long history of troubling behavior, is in the midst of a true governing and financial crisis – compounded by a pandemic-driven economic crisis that has already challenged cities in our region.
Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD) is a regional wholesaler of drinking water, providing water to nearly 19 million people throughout Southern California. They import water from the Colorado River and Northern California to supplement local supplies. The 38 member Board of Directors is comprised of representatives from member cities as well as member agencies such as Central Basin Municipal Water District, representing a conglomeration of cities. These member cities and agencies are responsible for establishing and administering MWD’s policies and upholding the MWD Act.
While Whittier does not have a connection to MWD, and does not receive water from MWD, many of our neighboring cities do, and Central Basin’s costs have a direct impact on Whittier residents’ water rates.
The Central Basin Board of Directors have been unable to address an agenda for months, unable to seat their Directors at the Metropolitan Water District Board, unable to hire a General Manager or attorney, and cannot elect a President. The District is also facing a dire financial situation, including a downgraded bond rating and an operational deficit, while being unable or unwilling to enact cost-cutting measures in light of substantial loss of water sales revenue. The projected budget deficit of $1.8 million for fiscal year 2020-2021, combined with other revenue slashing missteps and multiple lawsuits, could sink the District into potential bankruptcy.
SB 625 would give residents of Whittier and neighboring cities, totaling more than 2.1 million residents, an opportunity to voice their opinions and change the current governance structure at Central Basin. The bill, currently under consideration in the State Legislature, would place the District into receivership at the Water Replenishment District of Southern California, a public agency, and dissolve its dysfunctional Board of Directors. The Los Angeles County Local Agency Formation Commission would then organize a public discussion process to recommend governance alternatives to the Legislature. SB 625 would also protect Central Basin’s financial condition, reducing costs and ensuring a continued revenue stream that the District has had for almost 30 years.
SB 625 truly protects Whittier’s rate payers from the mismanagement of the Central Basin Board. Especially in light of COVID-19, our public water system costs need not unnecessarily rise due to the unstable and unethical practices of this Board.
This is why we are asking the Legislature to act now – Whittier residents and neighboring cities alike cannot afford to wait. If the Legislature fails to take action, the Central Basin Municipal Water District will fail. The situation is untenable, as the Board cannot even agree to hold meetings and proceed with regular business.
Furthermore, Central Basin’s failure would jeopardize access to imported and recycled water supplies. A curtailment of imported supplies would result in over pumping of groundwater. Failure to take action will destroy Central Basin’s ability to maintain and operate its recycled water system.
Bankrupt entities end up costing everyone more money, and they damage public confidence in the government’s ability to solve problems. Central Basin’s failure will inevitably lead to higher costs for water in southeast Los Angeles County, and these costs will be carried by the ratepayers. We can ill afford to increase water rates due to unnecessary and troubling decisions.
The Legislature must pass SB 625 to protect the delivery of reliable water for our neighbors and water costs for all of us. Many cities in the southeast Los Angeles County depend on Central Basin to deliver a consistent drinking water supply to their residents. That cannot and should not be disrupted by an unethical and mismanaged Board of Directors.
SB 625 must be passed before irreparable damage is done to our community – failure is not an option. Please join me and 70 members of the California State Assembly in supporting SB 625.
Fernando Dutra is a Whittier city council member and chair of the Southeast Water Coalition.