Inflammatory statements by persistent critic Greg Prada inflamed two who served on the El Dorado Irrigation District’s Cost of Services study committee with Prada.
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Prada was indirectly quoted in the Feb. 24 Mountain Democrat as saying, “low agriculture rates are the result of an industry that hasn’t had to pay its share of water delivery costs and a district that likes to have ‘irrigation’ in its name.”
“I don’t know where to start” said Rainbow Orchard owner Tom Heflin, who is also a professor of economics and finance at California State University Sacramento. “Off the top of my head ag uses approximately 9 percent of the water in the district as opposed to the 17 percent (stated in the Feb. 24 article on ag rates).
“When I agreed to serve on the Cost of Service committee … we sat around the table and said EID is a single district, so we’re gong to achieve some balance,” Heflin told the EID board Feb. 26.
“I think we need to do a little better fact checking. I’m afraid the tenor has gotten away from what the district is about,” Heflin said. “We need to go back and look at the principles. We can have class warfare — rate classes. I just think we have to have a better conversation.”
“It’s just frustrating to participate in a process for so long and have nitpicking,” Heflin, a county planning commissioner, said.
EID General Manager Jim Abercrombie reviewed the principles to which the committee members agreed before beginning the Cost of Service study.
The committee, composed of Prada, Heflin, retired associate chief of forestry Doug Leisz, Realtor Kim Beal and recycled water engineer Albert Hasbun. The committee had the advice of a rate consultant, Abercrombie, the district finance director, a district wastewater engineer and a drinking water operations manager, as well as the district communications director.
Before launching into the rates the committee formulated principles and voted on them, with two being adopted on 7-1 votes, with Prada dissenting, and 10 principles adopted unanimously, including the one on agriculture.
Principle 9, adopted unanimously began by saying, “Establish agricultural rates that recognize agriculture’s role in the district’s formation and development, the quality of water required to serve these customers and the level of service required.”
The Policy Statement under Principle 9 said, “Rates for agricultural irrigation must recognize the importance of historical contribution that the agricultural customer class has provided to existing and future customers. The district will consider water quality and levels of service in distinguishing agricultural rates compared to municipal and industrial rates.”
In a written “discussion” point when Principle 9 was adopted Sept. 1, 2010, the verbiage to which the committee unanimously agreed, stated, “From the 1850s to the 1970s agricultural water played a major role in the development and acquisition of, and funding for, water rights through Project 184 [four alpine reservoirs, 22 miles of flumes and canal, Forebay Reservoir and a 21-megawatt hydroelectric plant], Weber Dam, Sly Park reservoir, and other diversions and facilities.
“The agricultural irrigation customers do not require either the level of high-quality water treatment or the level of service demanded by municipal and industrial customers.
“Many agricultural customers have been provided treated water at a cost savings to the district in lieu of building dual treated water and raw water pipelines when converting open ditches to pipeline as a water conservation measure.
“The district should not allocate costs to agricultural customers to provide high water quality and levels of service that were necessitated by municipal and industrial customers, the discussion statement concluded.
The principles were drafted “based on concerns expressed at the Aug. 4, 2010, Cost of Services advisory meeting” and adopted Sept. 1, 2010.
“I think I speak for the board when I say I appreciate the work you and Doug (Leisz) have done,” Director John Fraser said to Heflin. “We regard it as one district. We don’t play one part against another.”
“There seem to be two newbies (Prada and Jon Jakowatz), said Leisz. “There seemed to be some kind of hoax by one member (of the Cost of Service committee). We didn’t let the member have his way all the time.”
“The thing that most disturbs me,” Leisz said, “is to have a series of articles imply the study was erroneous. Each was brought back to the board. The last thing we need to get into is class warfare.”
“There are parts of the system which defy precision. It was developed over time,” Leisz said. “You cannot stop and remake the world.”
“I want to see a water system in this county that is forward-looking. You have been cutting staff too low. I ended up with a high respect for the staff that makes this thing go,” Leisz said. “We’re fortunate to have the amount and quality of water that we do.”