Friday, September 12, 2014

Interview with Terry Strange - CCWD Candidate District 2

Why are you running for the CCWD Board?
Water is probably our County’s most precious natural resource and how we manage it may be the most important challenge we face this generation.  The Calaveras County Water District is one of the most important elected agencies in the County, and certainly the most important water agency throughout Calaveras County.  It plays a vital role not just in the daily lives of its ratepayers (like me) but in the economic development of the entire County.  A well-managed CCWD is crucial for the future economic well-being of Calaveras County.
Unfortunately, constant upper management turnovers have cost CCWD hundreds of thousands of dollars while an aging infrastructure is poorly maintained.  Worse, CCWD’s Board of Directors hit it’s hard-pressed customers with huge rate increases while at the same time building a new multi-million dollar Administrative building.  But what is the most damaging is the breakdown in trust between CCWD’s Board and many others, including ratepayers and other elected officials. This cannot go on.
Calaveras County faces many challenges, but we can never hope to make progress when one of our most important public agencies, CCWD, either cannot or will not engage in dialogue and successful collaboration with its own customers and other County agencies.  So, I’m running for CCWD first and foremost to restore public trust in the agency. I believe this can only come with new leadership committed to improving customer services and improving communication across the board.  Only then will CCWD become a useful and respected partner in the sustainable economic development of our County.  I am confident that my extensive experience in water resource management and policy, commitment to improving communication and collaboration with the Board, and desire to improve the communities in which we live and work, and will help to restore the public trust and respect in CCWD.

What are your qualifications?
I have prepared myself well for this position as a result of my education, professional experiences, and commitments to improve the community in which I live, work, and raise our children. I received my master’s degree in Watershed Management from Humboldt State University in 1989. The graduate degree compliments my undergraduate degrees in Fisheries Biology and Wildlife Management from 1984.  My entire professional career has been focused on water resource management as a professional biologist, professor of natural resources, watershed coordinator, and public service employee.  I am also a rate payer that is very concerned with the direction of CCWD over the previous years and recent decisions that have come from the board room.  I am familiar with many of local projects owned and managed by CCWD as I have provided professional services to CCWD on several local water reliability and water rights extension projects in Division 2.  I worked closely with many local community members when we formed the Upper Mokelumne River Watershed Council in 2003 and I was the watershed coordinator for the Council from 2004 to 2007.  I have worked collaboratively alongside CCWD staff, local and regional water agencies, and interested community members to develop programs that protect and enhance water quality and land use planning throughout Calaveras County while protecting our water rights.  The local relationships I have developed in the past several years will provide great benefit to CCWD moving forward.  My experience running private businesses and training as a certified facilitator for dispute resolution, will allow me to work effectively with a range of people and perspectives – both within and beyond the board room.  I know water, and I look forward to working with the CCWD Board and staff, and other elected officials to rebuild effective working relationships across the board.

What, if anything, will you do to protect our water rights?
I believe that above all, the most important responsibility of a CCWD Board Director serving the ratepayers and residents of Calaveras County is to protect all existing and future water rights within this county.  Furthermore, it our duty and obligation as a board member to continue to plan several decades into the future to meet all conceivable demands for water and wastewater services throughout the county.  The challenges we face from competing interests for our water resources will continue to be great, and we must be up for the challenge to protect our dedicated rights to our water with whatever means necessary.  Water has become the liquid gold in California, and Calaveras County has been blessed with a significant amount of water rights for future use.
The ability to protect our water rights will essentially require that we perfect it and put it to beneficial use.  With sufficient demand, one of our biggest economic challenges to protect our water rights is the requirement that we use water.  To do this will require that we develop the capacity to store (both above and below ground), delivery, and if necessary to treat the water.  To accomplish this, it may require significant investment in new and existing infrastructure.  By prioritizing water use in locations with existing infrastructure will allow us to reduce such investment.  However, increased water demand can also be accomplished by supporting additional water uses in a cost effective manner that does not burden the existing customers or tax payers.  Additional options to increase water markets and revenues within the county include the expansion of water use to support Calaveras agriculture, and to consider water markets outside the County.  Above all, we must be able to support our ability to protect our existing and future water rights by increasing its use. 

Do you support the wild and scenic designation of the Mokelumne River?
The wild and scenic designation on the Mokelumne River is not a new idea.  This issue and perspectives have been debated for over three decades.  In considering whether to support or oppose the wild and scenic designation for the Mokelumne River (or for that matter any important issue before the CCWD Board), I must first commit myself to fully understanding the proposal in its entirety, including all advantages and disadvantages to our water rights, our ability to perfect such water rights in the future, potential effects on existing customers and county taxpayers, predicted effects on our local economies and communities, potential impacts to existing jobs or creation of future jobs, and impacts to the existing and future recreational opportunities of the area of such an act.  I would also engage the communities in which I represent in dialogue to develop the best understanding of their wishes and desires.  Analogous to the designation of our nearby National Parks, wild and scenic designation can provide the protection of specific aquatic and watershed resources in perpetuity within a river segment for the enjoyment of existing and future generations.
If a wild and scenic designation was proposed in such a way that did not compromise our future water rights and ability to perfect such rights; provided direct and indirect benefits to our local communities, enhances local economies, provided job opportunities, increased local recreational opportunities, had a preponderance of support from my local constituents, and allowed our future generations to experience such resources in a similar manner throughout time, then I would support such a designation.  One of the most important considerations for discussion of wild and scenic is location, as I believe we must have the unfettered ability to develop water systems in a manner that maximizes gravity flow and reduces power costs.
What is your stand on fleet gas cards and accountability of CCWD vehicle use via GPS or other means?
If used properly by authorized individuals, fleet gas cards provide wholesale purchase opportunities and can reduce expenditures and related costs.  There is always the potential for misuse of such privileges.  With sufficient documentation that the fleet gas card program was being used in a manner that was in direct conflict with district policies, I would recommend that the system’s accountability and purchase documentation programs be evaluated, or if not available, one be installed by the district.  There should be very clear direction to authorized individuals on the allowable use and limitations of purchases with the card.  Disciplinary actions as a result of card misuse must also be clearly defined.  Audits of the cards should also take place at regular intervals.
I was employed by the San Joaquin County Mosquito and Vector Control agency at the time that they instituted a GPS tracking technology on their fleet of vehicles.  There were a number of reasons for instituting such a program, including the need for better tracking and reporting of chemical use in wetlands and airborne applications to the state.  GPS tracking of vehicle can be used to provide better accountability of field staff and to more effectively manage response to field needs.  The program may also increase efficiency and overall productivity in the field leading to improved customer service.  The program can also be used to support policies of vehicle use, emergency response during injuries, and to document vehicle mileage and safe routes when carrying potentially hazardous materials.  If it is determined that there is a need, and that the program will increase customer service, reduce costs through increased work productivity, improve field staff management capabilities, and there are dedicated staff and funds available to monitor, evaluate, and report on the program, then I would support such a program. 

Will investigation into the alleged depletion and/or disappearance of the reserve funds be a priority?
I am not familiar at this time with allegations of reserve fund mismanagement at CCWD.  I trust that internal and external financial audits of the district take place at defined intervals, and that if any misappropriations have taken place in the past, those issues have been resolved as quickly and efficiently as possible.  As a special district, CCWD answers to the state regarding expenditures (including reserve funds), debit servicing, financing, and possibly even operations and maintenance expenditures.  All directors at CCWD have fiduciary responsibilities to insure that the district remains solvent through the actions of the general manager and staff.  As a CCWD director, I would prioritize collaborative and respectful efforts by the board to evaluate all budgets and accounts, including revenue characteristics, as part of my fiduciary responsibilities to the agency, customers, my constituents, and taxpayers of Calaveras County.
The proper management of reserve accounts is very important for CCWD because of the large number of water systems that are in need of significant repairs and/or replacement.  These accounts provide the funds to meet any unexpected costs that may arise in the future beyond available budgets.  As a business owner, I understand the need for reserve funds to meet unexpected costs while waiting for revenues to arrive.  It is these reserve funds that allow CCWD business to proceed as necessary and avoid interruptions in service to the rate payers.  If previous activities at CCWD have reduced the reserve funds to lower than expected capital, I would support an audit of the accounts as soon as possible.  All future activities that I would support related to the use or enhancement of the reserve funds would depend on the results of that audit.
What new programs/policies would you like to see implemented?  
There are a number of programs that I would like to see implemented as a director at CCWD.  The first program would be the opportunity to create accounts that allow for sliding rates, and adjustment of payments based on the customer’s economic resources.  I understand that as a special district, CCWD must follow state water code regulations, and that those regulations, at this time, does not allow for subsidies to rate payers.  There are current discussions with the state by a collective group of water agencies to modify the state water code and allow for state subsidies to rate payers based on need.  These subsidies come from state funds, not other rate payers.  I will commit to participating with that collective group to further those discussions along.
We know that CCWD needs additional revenues but neither ratepayers nor taxpayers should be called upon to provide them.  Before rates go up another penny, we need to look at other ways to boost CCWD revenues.  I believe that the following programs/policies can provide significant future revenues.  These include the following:  developing partnerships with other water agencies to train staff to maintain or enhance certifications or mandatory training; investigate the opportunity to lease, sell, or otherwise generate revenue from district assets that are not being currently used; increase water sales to support Calaveras Agriculture, and, for the right price, explore sales of our surplus water to outside; initiate discussions with NCPA to increase our share of the revenues from hydroelectric generation from Spicer Reservoir.

In an attempt to restore respect and trust in CCWD, I would work to develop policies and programs to enhance communications, dialogue, and transparency by reaching out to elected officials at the county and local government levels, and reach out to the customers and tax payers within Division 2.
What do you feel is working within CCWD well and would leave alone?
I do not feel as though I have complete familiarity or thorough knowledge at this time with all of CCWD’s programs, operations, facilities, customer support, results of water treatment tests, or maintenance activities to confidently provide a list of those activities that CCWD does well, or those activities that CCWD does less than well. 
I have experienced excellent service through the call-in customer service program.  I have personally called CCWD a few times to discuss the way in which the tiered water billing process is calculated, or have had questions regarding other billing information, and have received satisfactory results each time. 
If the lack of complaints by family, friends and acquaintances is a benchmark for work performed well, the wastewater treatment system in West Point is operating well.  I also feel that the track record of CCWD for supporting local small businesses with capable skill sets has been excellent throughout recent history.  CCWD has also maintained a strong presence at various local and regional water forums when fully staffed.  This presence is a show of commitment to local water resource management and a desire to work collaboratively and effectively with other water agencies to seek state and federal funding, develop policy and programs to more efficiently manage existing water sources, conjunctive use programs, groundwater management policies, and to prioritize and plan for future water management projects focused on protecting water quality, improving planning for water storage and delivery systems, water rights protection, and enhancing collaborative activities on a regional scale.  CCWD has also been very good at securing federal and state funds to improve the infrastructure and efficiency of water storage, treatment and delivery to benefit its customers in economically challenged areas. 

Will you or will you not, push for the completion of the sewer line on Little John Road? Why?
I have no understanding of the sewer line on Little John Road at this time as it is outside of the Division 2 service area and where I live and work.  As mentioned above with the question of supporting the wild and scenic designation on the Mokelumne River, if I do not have the information necessary to make an educated decision, I will seek the necessary information before making such decisions.  I would need to be informed by staff on the current infrastructure capacity and condition of such a system prior to my statement to support such a project.  However, I can say that if the project is not controversial, has support by the Director that serves that area and local residents, and will not burden the ratepayers or tax payers in that area, there is a good chance that I can support such a project.  However, I would want to evaluate the economic short-term and long term impacts to the District prior to my decision.  Also, if the purpose of the project is to support further development in an area that does not have existing infrastructure, I would want to be sure that all fair-share contributions, or all costs for extension of new services are being met by the landowners/homeowners that would benefit.

Do you support or oppose groundwater regulations?
CCWD is primarily a surface water supplied district other than the northwestern portion of the county near the communities of Burson and Wallace.  Because the district is essentially a surface water management agency, I would refrain from supporting activities to regulate groundwater in this county unless it was specifically and only related to active conjunctive use programs in the western portion of the county where surface water was being used to recharge groundwater aquifers – and where it would be in the best interests of CCWD customers or county tax payers to have such regulations.  The state does not recognize significant groundwater reserves in Calaveras County except along the very western edge of the County.
At this time I oppose groundwater regulations for most of Calaveras County.  I do not feel as though groundwater regulations have a benefit to, or should even be considered in all but the far western portion of Calaveras County.  Most of the remaining portions of Calaveras County (including all of Division 2), lack significant groundwater resource that would justify such regulation.  In addition, the area lacks the high demand for groundwater typically reserved for densely populated metropolitan areas, agricultural operations, or large industry.  Our local groundwater resources are located mostly in fractured underground rock strata that lack the volume and recharge rate characteristic of large groundwater aquifers.  As a result, these small groundwater resources can be relatively unstable over time.  Many property owners struggle to maintain existing groundwater reserves and avoid depletion of wells. I would need to hear strong opposing arguments for regulating groundwater in all but the northwestern portion of Calaveras County before considering modifying my beliefs and perspectives on groundwater management by the state. 

Please explain your understanding of the North Fork Stanislaus River Hydro Electric Development Project.
The North Fork Stanislaus River Hydro Electric Development Project produces electric power and provides recreation.  The project is owned by CCWD and managed under a joint development agreement with CCWD and Northern California Power Agency (NCPA).  The cornerstone dam on the project is the New Spicer Meadow Dam and Reservoir (Referred to as Spicer Reservoir) was constructed between 1985 and 1990.  The primary power production facility of the Project is the Collierville Powerhouse at Clarks Flat.  The project covers 60 miles and includes Spicer Reservoir, two diversion dams and tunnels, the McKay’s Point Diversion Dam, the Collierville Powerhouse, and power transmission lines.

Water travels from the North Fork Stanislaus River by diversion to Spicer Reservoir via a two-mile tunnel from the North Fork Diversion Dam.  Water from Spicer Reservoir then flows into Highland Creek, which flows into the North Fork Stanislaus River.  Water is eventually impounded in the McKays Point Reservoir.  A small diversion dam was constructed on Beaver Creek, to deliver water from Beaver Creek into the McKays Point Reservoir.  From McKays Point Reservoir, the water enters the Lower Collierville Tunnel and falls 2,270 feet from McKays Point to the Collierville Powerhouse.  The project typically produces 252 megawatts of electric energy per year.  Approximately 40 miles of 230 kilovolt transmission lines connect the Collierville Powerhouse with PG&E’s substation at Bellota
CCWD owns the water rights, the license to produce electricity, and the hydroelectric facility.  NCPA operates the hydroelectric facility under agreement with CCWD.  NCPA constructed the hydroelectric facility and power transmission system at apparently no cost to CCWD.  CCWD received a significant payment from NCPA at the beginning of the project; however, these funds have been exhausted through the years.  Although NCPA receives significant economic benefit from monthly hydro revenues, CCWD receives an average of approximately $500,000 per year.  

At this point you may add a prepared statement of no more than 300 words.
No public agency can operate in the public interest unless it is committed to do so.  Unfortunately rate payers, tax payers, and other public agencies have every right to question whether CCWD’s current Board of Directors has truly made this commitment.  To fix this will take time.  Words alone cannot heal the wounds of CCWD’s ratepayers or rebuild the public trust.  Nor will soothing rhetoric automatically restore the confidence of other public agencies in CCWD, and build the kinds of lasting and effective partnerships we urgently need to move forward.  Actions will need to speak louder than words, and one of the first actions CCWD needs to take is to re-affirm its commitment to operating with transparency and within the laws regarding open meetings and the public’s right to know.  In the end, only when citizens and other elected officials see a real change in CCWD’s actions and commitment to collaborate, both internally and externally, will there be real change for the better.
Calaveras County is blessed with extensive water rights.  And since water is probably our County’s most precious natural resource, how we manage it may be the most important challenge we will face this generation.  Working together - listening to each other in a spirit of compromise and mutual respect, I know we can get Calaveras County on the right economic track.  The future well-being of our County depends on our ability to wisely manage the one precious resource we have in abundance.
If elected, I pledge to do all I can to bring about a new era of trust and transparency with CCWD’s customers and the taxpayers, and to work as hard as I can to rebuild working relationships with other elected officials.
I expect to be held accountable.

Terry Strange
 office (209) 293-3200
cell (209) 419-2997