Teresa Morse sticks her hand under the faucet in her bathroom in Golden Hill on March 10, 2023. Morse says it can take several minutes to get warm water.
File photo by Ariana Drehsler

A bill in the state Assembly would make it harder for local water districts to leave their regional partnerships if they’re seeking cheaper water rates. That’s what two small, North County farming communities have been fighting to do for the last three years

Rep. Tasha Boerner’s bill, AB 530, seeks to change the County Water Authority Act by requiring a countywide vote before any water district could buy water from a different county. 

Background: Rainbow Municipal Water District and Fallbrook Public Utility District want to ditch the San Diego County Water Authority to buy cheaper water from Eastern Municipal Water District in Riverside County. The Water Authority has fought the decision arguing their departure would force the remaining 22 water district customers to pick up the tab for all the major investments the agency has made in recent decades – raising water rates for everyone that remains. 

San Diego’s Local Agency Formation Commission is slated to make a decision on the matter on June 5. What LAFCO decides was supposed to be final, appealable only to the courts. 

That’s where it get’s confusing. If passed, AB 530 would require a majority of San Diego County voters to approve such departures. Both sides are speculating how the bill would affect LAFCO’s decision. But no one really knows.

The city of San Diego is a sponsor of the bill, and it’s also home to 41 percent of registered county voters. Those voters could go a long way to vetoing the desires of water districts that want to leave. 

Mayor Todd Gloria called AB 530 “prudent, good government legislation that promotes democracy and will help protect the residents of San Diego County,” in a May 17 letter to Boerner. 

The other side: Tom Kennedy, general manager at Rainbow Municipal Water District, called the bill a “bald face attempt” by the city of San Diego to turn the County Water Authority into something like SANDAG, where the city dominates everything at the expense of people living in outlying areas. The city of San Diego also has the most voting power on the Water Authority board. 

“Now they’re saying, unless the County Water Authority allows you to go, you’re stuck. It’s the roach motel of water agencies. You can get in, but you can never get out,” Kennedy said. 

Kennedy called San Diego’s position hypocritical because the city will eventually buy 50 percent less water from the Water Authority once its wastewater-to-drinking water project comes online, diminishing its dependence on the Water Authority and its ever-rising water rates.

Nick Serrano, Gloria’s deputy chief of staff and a Water Authority board member representing the city, said Rainbow and Fallbrook and other agencies shouldn’t “leave the table” in the face of the rising cost of water. The Water Authority recently proposed a 14 percent rate hike for 2024. 

“We made all these investments over 20 years … We have to face what’s happening to the region,” Serrano said. “We’ll need to work together to figure out what we’re going to do going forward.” 

Top Dog at Water Authority Retires

Colorado River Board of California meeting at the San Diego County Water Authority on March 15, 2023.
Colorado River Board of California meeting at the San Diego County Water Authority on March 15, 2023. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

The leader of the San Diego County Water Authority is retiring after nearly four years as general manager. 

The Water Authority board appointed Sandra Kerl in November 2019. Her last day is June 29, the Water Authority confirmed Thursday. 

Kerl previously served as deputy general manager under the longtime and controversial head of the Water Authority, Maureen Stapleton, beginning in 2009. After taking the helm, Kerl inherited and continued the legal battle between Water Authority and its Los Angeles-based wholesaler, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California over water charges and costs related to transporting water from the Colorado River and Sierra Nevadas to the region. 

During her tenure the Water Authority board seriously considered (and spent a couple million dollars studying) building its own pipeline to the Colorado River in order to bypass having to buy from Metropolitan. That project died again as tensions eased a bit in the court battle between the two water agencies.

The Water Authority’s deputy general manager, Dan Denham, will take over as interim general manager. It’s up to the Water Authority’s 24 member agencies that purchase water from the wholesaler to decide who will take the helm next. The Water Authority’s administrative code doesn’t dictate how the board must proceed.  

What we will be paying attention to: The new leader will be key as the Water Authority, along with every water district in the West, faces big negotiations on the fate of the drought-stricken Colorado River come 2026. 

In Other News 

  • Ninety-seven percent of bus service in the South Bay was canceled Thursday, as an ongoing labor dispute has continued to take a toll on public transportation in the region. 10News spoke to riders in Chula Vista who were running hours late due to the disruption
  • The city of San Diego is changing course in its plan to revamp the northeastern portion of Mission Bay by providing more space for golf, tennis courts and youth sports facilities, while scaling back its attempts to expand the amount of marshland in the areas, the Union-Tribune reported Thursday. As our MacKenzie Elmer has reported, reclaiming marshland could be pivotal in the city’s attempts to combat its contribution to climate change.
  • The Padres are touting that their games will be available on more outlets and with no local blackouts, in the face of the team reclaiming the broadcasting rights for its games from Diamond Sports after the company missed a scheduled payment on those rights, as KPBS reported.
  • A $650 million life sciences campus broke ground in Sorrento Mesa this week, the Union-Tribune reports.
  • It’s May Gray, it’s June Gloom, what’s the difference? It’s cloudy, it’s been cloudy for months, there aren’t enough rhyme schemes to describe the ways in which this cloudiness persists. (CBS 8)
  • Rep. Juan Vargas was the only member of San Diego’s congressional delegation to vote against the bill to raise the federal government’s debt ceiling. (KPBS)

The Morning Report was written by MacKenzie Elmer and Andrew Keatts. It was edited by Andrea Lopez-Villafaña.

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