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Posted on: January 9, 2019

Santa Margarita Water District is the best fit for San Juan Capistrano - Orange County Register

OC Register op-ed

The Orange County Register published an opinion editorial stating that the Santa Margarita Water District is the best fit for taking over the City of San Juan Capistrano's water utility.  The District has a long-standing, positive relationship with the City of San Juan Capistrano – We are partners in developing a local water source through the San Juan Watershed Project, we have worked together for years as partners in the San Juan Basin Authority, we have assisted with several after-hours emergencies, and currently, we read the City’s water meters. In a recent survey, 86% of San Juan customers say they want a balanced approach to their water—local supply development and conservation. We look forward to bringing the balance of identifying and developing new water sources, water use efficiency as well as operational efficiency improvements to the community.

Santa Margarita Water District is the best fit for San Juan Capistrano 

By | Orange County Register


Mark Twain once said, “Whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting over.”  After years of struggling to operate their own water utility, the City of San Juan Capistrano is now considering turning over its water and wastewater operations to one of three local water districts that specialize in this service and have submitted proposals.  Apparently, Mark Twain knew what he was talking about.

At the City’s request, Santa Margarita Water District (SMWD) to the east, South Coast Water District (SCWD) to the south and Moulton Niguel Water District (MNWD) to the north have all expressed an interest in owning and operating the City’s water utility.  While they all have the ability to provide water and wastewater services, the City Council should carefully consider which water district is truly the best fit for San Juan Capistrano ratepayers in a variety of capacities including ratepayer protection for San Juan residents and businesses, the proposers’ commitments to repairing and replacing the water and sewer pipes and pumps as well as each district’s philosophy and expertise when it comes to the development of local, reliable water supplies.

Much of San Juan Capistrano’s water and sewer infrastructure is dated and in need of repair.  Ratepayers will have to foot the bill for these repairs.  OCTax will be watching to make sure ratepayers are not victims of a shell game.  Being charged twice, once to pay the city for the contract and then again for needed repair and maintenance is not acceptable.

Santa Margarita Water District already owns and operates the advanced water treatment facility at Lake Mission Viejo, which is similar to the City’s Groundwater Reclamation Plant.  SMWD also has a philosophy that is more in line with most San Juan Capistrano residents, which is to balance water use efficiency with the development of new water supplies so that when the next drought hits, the City won’t be literally left high and dry. Tightening the tap is important, but so is identifying new local water supplies and investing in the development of those new supplies.  A balanced approach, like the one proposed by SMWD, is what San Juan Capistrano needs and deserves.

SMWD is currently constructing the Trampas Canyon Dam and Reservoir, less than two miles east of San Juan Capistrano. Trampas will have a capacity of 2.8 billion gallons of recycled water – the largest reservoir in South Orange County.  SMWD is also working with the City of San Juan Capistrano as well as South Coast Water District on the San Juan Watershed project, which would install rubber dams along San Juan Creek and Trabuco Creek, which would inflate and capture stormwater runoff and could provide enough water for 50,000 families per year in South Orange County.

The City is already working in partnership with SMWD on a variety of projects including the South County Pipeline, which provides imported water, as well as meter reading for many existing San Juan Capistrano customers.  SMWD and San Juan Capistrano are also partners along with other regional water providers in the Upper Chiquita Reservoir, which guarantees San Juan Capistrano families about 200 gallons of fresh drinking water per day for a week in an emergency.  And Santa Margarita can be counted on as a good neighbor.  Recently, Santa Margarita crews joined with City workers to contain a sewer spill in the City.  They have the kind of “can do” attitude that will fit well with San Juan Capistrano.

SMWD plans regionally, but serves locally. From the Cadiz Water Project that will provide a new source of water to the development of the Baker Treatment Plant which provides south Orange County with local treatment capacity, SMWD can provide the economies of scale to ensure ratepayers are getting the most bang for their buck.

While any of the three water districts can do the job, SMWD should be the district that the City selects.  It has the regional planning ability, local community knowledge, and economies of scale for ratepayer protection to make it the best fit for San Juan Capistrano.

Carolyn Cavecche is the President and CEO of the Orange County Taxpayers Association. Cavecche is also the former Mayor of Orange.

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