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Archive for the ‘Paul Helliker’ Category

by Paul Helliker

On July 26, the MMWD Board of Directors considered an initiative that had been circulated by Marin residents Bill Rothman, Loren Moore and Katherine Jain, for which they received more than 18,000 signatures of registered voters in the district. The board chose to forward the initiative to the Marin County Registrar for placement on the November 2, 2010, election ballot. This initiative would prevent MMWD from taking any further action on desalination, without an election and approval by a majority of voters—including evaluation of the technology; additional environmental studies required by regulatory agencies; assessment of renewable power supplies for a facility; planning, permitting or design of a facility; or construction of the project.

Because of these prohibitions, the MMWD board chose also to adopt an alternative ballot measure for placement on the November ballot. This measure would address the primary concern—construction of a $100 million desalination facility—and would require an election and majority approval before MMWD could proceed with construction or financing for construction.  In advance of a vote, MMWD could proceed to evaluate and study desalination, including determining when it would be appropriate to solicit approval of the voters for such a facility.

Because water demand among MMWD’s customers has dropped by 15 percent in the past 18 months, the desalination project has been placed on hold by the MMWD board. MMWD staff is determining the cause of the reduction in water demand and the projections for demand in the future, and will recommend to the MMWD board in mid-2011 whether or not to reinitiate the desal project.

For recent news stories about the desalination measures, visit the following links:
Water Board Sends Two Desalination Issues to Ballot (Marin IJ)
Dueling Ballot Measures over Marin Desalination  (San Francisco Chronicle)

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by Paul Helliker

The recent rate increase that was adopted by the MMWD Board of Directors and the rate increases that have occurred over the past five years have been driven in large part by the ongoing need to repair and replace the water supply infrastructure in Marin County. Parts of the system date back more than a century, and much of it was constructed in the 1950s and ’60s, when Marin County’s population was growing quickly. The pipelines, tanks, pumps, treatment facilities and other equipment that was built or installed at that time is now reaching the end of its life. In the meantime, many new requirements have been adopted by regulatory agencies that have increased the cost of providing water supply. To keep clean water flowing reliably to our customers, MMWD faces an ongoing need to invest in replacing and repairing its infrastructure.

MMWD’s long-range capital plan anticipates expenditures of $150 million on infrastructure during the next decade. This funding would be used to replace leaking pipes, construct steel tanks to replace deteriorating redwood water tanks, install new components to protect the system in case of earthquakes, expand the capacity of water lines in areas near open space (to improve firefighting capabilities) and many other projects. These costs will be borne by MMWD over many years, with our plans to issue debt to pay for them. MMWD is planning to issue $30 million in debt financing in 2010 to pay for an increment of this program, which will be repaid over the next 30 years.

Water agencies throughout the country are facing similar infrastructure investment needs. In fact, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently projected that the nation would need to invest $335 billion in the coming decades, just to keep tap water flowing. For more on this, see the New York Times article at this link.

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by Paul Helliker

At its board meeting of March 17, MMWD’s Board of Directors voted unanimously to oppose Proposition 16 on California’s June ballot.  The initiative is entitled the New Two-Thirds Requirement for Local Public Electricity Providers Act.

The proposed constitutional amendment would require a two-thirds majority vote of local voters before a local government could:

  • Establish a Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) program
  • Use public funding to implement a plan to become a CCA provider
  • Issue revenue bonds for the purpose of operating a CCA or municipal power agency
  • Expand electric service to new territory or new customers

The initiative would set an unwelcome precedent for any local agency such as MMWD, by requiring a two-thirds vote of approval before revenue bonds could be issued.  Currently, the approval threshold is 50 percent.

Pacific Gas & Electric is the sole financial sponsor of the initiative, having contributed $15.5 million through the end of February 2010.  In opposing Proposition 16, MMWD joins over fifty other cities; counties; municipal power agencies; state and national associations of consumers, ratepayers and local governments; and citizen’s groups who have taken similar stands.

News media throughout California have roundly criticized Proposition 16 and urged voters to reject it.  The following links are to some of these editorials:

Oakland Tribune: “California Voters Should Reject Proposition 16″

Los Angeles Times: “PG&E Amps Up Bid for Power”

Fresno Bee: “Don’t Vote for PG&E’s  Newest Power Grab”

San Francisco Chronicle: “Worst Ballot Measure Ever”

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by Paul Helliker

Phoenix Lake spillway

Phoenix Lake spillway

No more worries when it comes to having enough water to get through this year without rationing. In a little more than two weeks our rainfall total went from 17.66 inches to 29.16 inches. Average rainfall is 28.61 inches, so we have already surpassed average rainfall for the year to date.

How does all that rain translate into available water supply? Since January 11, when this series of storms began, our reservoirs have gone from 57 percent of capacity, which was below average, to 84 percent of capacity, well above the average of 79 percent. Six of the seven reservoirs are filled to capacity, with Kent, the largest, currently measuring 62 percent full. We will continue to get run-off for several days even after the rain stops because the ground is thoroughly saturated and can’t absorb any more water.

For our neighbors to the north, the water supplies are robust, as well.  Storage in Lake Sonoma is already above the water supply capacity of 245,000 acre-feet, and storage in Lake Mendocino is at 90 percent of supply capacity.  Combined with the reduced instream flows required this summer by the Biological Opinion, this water supply will be more than adequate to meet all of the needs of residents in Sonoma and Marin Counties in 2010. The Biological Opinion is a 15-year recovery plan to implement the mandates of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) as they relate to threatened and endangered fish in the Russian River and its tributaries.

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by Paul Helliker

The Marin Municipal Water District Board of Directors voted unanimously on December 16, 2009 to issue a notice to customers of a proposed water rate increase of 9.8 percent. If the rate increase goes through, the average monthly cost increase for single-family residential customers is $4.07, or $8.14 per two-month billing cycle, raising the average bimonthly bill from $83.36 to $91.50.

MMWD’s water supply costs increased in 2009 and will increase more in 2010, due in part to the increased cost of water from Sonoma County Water Agency. Declining revenues also play a role in MMWD’s current financial picture. MMWD had planned for a 5-percent reduction in water use due to conservation in the current fiscal year, but use dropped 8.5 percent instead, resulting in inadequate revenue to cover operating expenses. MMWD cut operating expenses by $5.3 million in 2009-10 and will eliminate at least $2 million in 2010-11.  Essential water treatment and delivery needs like electricity and chemicals have continued to increase in cost; funding is needed for these three new water supply projects to increase water supply reliability during droughts: Shafter Bridge pipeline, Alpine Lake pump replacement and Corte Madera pump station.

MMWD will hold a public hearing on the proposed rate increase on Wednesday, February 24, 2010. If the proposal passes, the new rates would go into effect for water used beginning March 1 and meter readings taken on or after May 1, 2010.

For more information, visit the following link: http://www.marinwater.org/documents/Rate_Increase_Mailing_Notice_Dec_2009.pdf

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by Paul Helliker

On October 13, a tolling agreement was entered between Sonoma County Water Agency and the City of Santa Rosa.  Pursuant to this agreement, Sonoma County Water Agency agreed to suspend any further action to rescind its application for an additional 26,000 acre-feet per year of water supply from Lake Sonoma.  Santa Rosa agreed to suspend its litigation concerning SCWA’s breach of its contract responsibilities to provide future water supplies.  During the term of the tolling agreement, Santa Rosa will work with its fellow retail water contractors (including MMWD) to establish a collaborative effort with SCWA to update the 2006 Urban Water Management Plan.  This process will answer the questions of how much water conservation and water recycling will be possible by 2030, what water supply will be needed to meet the needs of a growing population, and what is the most cost-effective infrastructure to install to meet those needs.  This update is required to be completed by the end of 2010.

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by Paul Helliker

Armando Quintero

Armando Quintero

At the September 2 board meeting directors selected Armando Quintero to fill the board vacancy left by the loss of Director Alex Forman in July. Mr. Quintero, who was one of seven applicants for the seat, was sworn in on September 16 and will represent the District’s Division 2.

A 14-year resident of San Rafael, Mr. Quintero is the Director of Development at UC Merced’s Sierra Nevada Research Institute, which conducts integrated research in the natural, social and engineering sciences with the goals of sustaining natural resources and promoting social well being. His role is to create partnerships and to secure organizational and financial support for the institute’s projects and programs.

Mr. Quintero is currently the Chairman of the Board of the Sequoia Parks Foundation and is a member of the City of San Rafael Parks Commission. His professional background includes experience in the National Park Service as both a manager and a park ranger. He also has been very involved with San Rafael schools and community groups and several non-profit organizations. He earned his bachelor’s degree in environmental studies from Cal State Hayward.

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by Paul Helliker

In a surprise move, the Sonoma County Water Agency has abandoned the Water Project, the new Environmental Impact Report for the project and the Dry Creek bypass pipeline and its request for additional water supplies from Lake Sonoma to meet future needs in Sonoma and Marin Counties.  SCWA proposed this major change in direction on August 25, but the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors postponed decision on the request until September 15, to allow SCWA staff to discuss the proposal with the cities and water districts with whom they have contracts to provide the additional water.  SCWA staff and three of the Supervisors met with the Water Advisory Committee (composed of MMWD and other retail water suppliers who buy water from SCWA), but failed to definitively answer the questions of the Committee members.  As a result, the Committee unanimously adopted a resolution to the Board of Supervisors, asking them to reject the proposal by SCWA staff.  The resolution further asked that SCWA work with the retail contractors to revise the 2006 Urban Water Management Plan, so that future decisions about the Water Project and the application for additional water rights could be based on sound analysis.

The reasons for the proposed decision include the claims by SCWA that the Water Project would be too expensive, that it would be inconsistent with the Biological Opinion to protect salmonids in the Russian River, and that it is not necessary, because conservation can reduce future demands and render the Water Project unnecessary.  However, no data or documentation was provided by SCWA to support these claims, nor was any substantive alternative plan provided by SCWA to meet documented future water supply needs.  Various retail water contractors provided extensive information refuting these claims, and a lawsuit to prevent SCWA from rescinding its application for more water supply from Lake Sonoma was filed by Santa Rosa, North Marin Water District and Valley of the Moon Water District.

Despite the inadequate substantiation of the reasons for the decision, and despite the fact that SCWA has contracts that obligate it to deliver all of the water in its current water right and in its request for additional water supplies, the Board of Supervisors approved the proposed actions on September 15.  The County Counsel assured both the Superior Court that heard the lawsuit (which requested a restraining order against SCWA to enjoin them from rescinding the application for more water) and the Board of Supervisors that the County would wait at least thirty days before rescinding its water right application.  The retail contractors are currently evaluating their next course of action.

The following articles in the Marin Independent Journal and the Santa Rosa Press Democrat provide more information on this decision:

http://www.marinij.com/marinnews/ci_13329586

http://www.marinij.com/marinnews/ci_13336850

http://www.marinij.com/marinnews/ci_13343885

http://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/20090911/ARTICLES/909119972

http://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/20090915/ARTICLES/909159929

http://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/20090916/OPINION/909169905

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by Paul Helliker

At the August 19 meeting the MMWD Board of Directors unanimously approved a 5-million-gallon-per-day (MGD) desalination facility, expandable to 15 MGD, thereby keeping desalination available as one of Marin’s potential future water supply sources.

Earlier this year, on February 11, the board adopted several other water supply options, including operational improvements to the reservoir system, an expansion of MMWD’s recycled water distribution system, investigation into ways to improve the reliability of the district’s Russian River water supply, and further investment in MMWD’s aggressive water conservation program.

The desalination project approved by the board was the primary water supply alternative studied in an environmental impact report (EIR) that was certified by the board on February 4, 2009.

In the process of making their decision, Board members assured the public that each future Board action necessary before a desalination plant could be constructed and operated—such as contracts related to permitting, all design work, the issuance of debt, and the actual construction of a plant itself—would be subject to further public review and comment. In addition, a plan for providing renewable energy for the facility will also be developed and subjected to public review and Board action.

For several years MMWD has been investigating desalination along with a number of other options to provide an adequate and reliable water supply for customers during droughts and in the future. Specifically, MMWD has studied desalination since 1990 and initiated work on the current EIR in 2001.

The Marin Independent Journal has run a number of positive columns on desalination and this decision.  The first is a column by Richard Rubin, which is at:

http://www.marinij.com/marinnews/ci_13193288

Dick Spotswood, the political columnist for the Independent Journal, weighed in here:

http://www.marinij.com/marinnews/ci_13233887

And the whole editorial board of the Independent Journal provided the following support for MMWD:

http://www.marinij.com/marinnews/ci_13198151

The Pacific Sun also provided the following positive take on MMWD’s action:

http://www.pacificsun.com/news/show_story.php?id=1069

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by Paul Helliker

IMG_2232MMWD is working to reduce our environmental impact by installing three photovoltaic energy projects at District-owned facilities: the administration building in Corte Madera, the corporation yard, also in Corte Madera, and the San Geronimo Treatment Plant in Woodacre.

This past weekend, electricity was shut off at the administration building so that the new rooftop solar array could be interconnected to the main service panel. Testing and commissioning will happen this coming week. The array is expected to be fully operational in early August and will supply 35 percent of the building’s annual energy use.

Altogether, the three projects will provide approximately 300 kW (kilowatts) of solar power and generate approximately 500,000 kWh (kilowatt hours) of clean, renewable energy each year, offsetting 380,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per year—equivalent to avoiding 380,000 automobile miles.

All systems will feature Suntech modules with industry-leading power output tolerances, high conversion efficiencies, and a 25-year power output warranty. According to Suntech, water districts are particularly well suited for solar power due to their high electricity usage and unique load patterns. By replacing expensive midday electricity with clean solar power, we’ll immediately reduce our electric bills and our reliance on carbon-based peak power.

The Corte Madera projects are being financed by $1.956 million in zero-interest Clean Renewal Energy Bonds (CREBs). The projects also will qualify for up to $577,000 in rebates from PG&E for California Solar Initiative performance-based rebates.

The investment in solar power is part of our larger commitment to manage our natural resources sustainably.

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