Running for a third full term of office on the Georgetown Divide Public Utility District is Norm Krizl, 51.
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A farmer and former forester with the Eldorado National Forest, Krizl said he is running again because he wants the district to continue providing high quality service and to see it through what he says are efforts to disrupt the agency.
“I’m worried how employees are being treated by certain board members,” he said. “We have lost five employees in the last two years. Most, if not all, stated that hostility as the reason for leaving. I think there’s a movement to dismantle the district, which is causing us to lose employees.”
Krizl noted that when employees leave who have been with the district a long time, deep institutional knowledge goes with them and the level of service can be reduced.
Conflicts on the board
Noting that conflicts on the board are undermining district efforts, Krizl attributed most of the problems to two board members — Kathy Otermat and Bonnie McLane.
Otermat is trying to get rid of General Manager Hank White, Krizl said. “But Hank’s done a fantastic job. He has been with us for 10 years. I think personal issue seem to be at play to undercut staff at the district. And it’s been successful to some degree because some staff have left and that’s very disappointing to me. And that goes back to dismantling.
“Can the district do a better job? There’s room for improvement in any organization. But I believe that the way people have gone about trying to change things has not been very respectful, been very divisive, and not productive. I don’t see it benefiting the community to chase people away from the water district who have worked here a long time, who are part of the community, and have been here quite a bit longer than Kathy Otermat.”
Krizl said that Bonnie McLane also had some previous issues with GDPUD. “She has been trying to get herself on the board or certain people on the board for a while. So when elected it was an opportunity for her to move forward on certain topics. Otermat came out of the blue. I never met her before she ran. That’s what seems a little odd to me that someone who has not been active in the community and nobody knows is all of sudden the expert on how horrible the GDPUD is.”
In discussing what he has accomplished as a board member, Krizl said that leaving the El Dorado Water and Power Authority was one accomplishment because it potentially saved the district tens of millions of dollars in infrastructure costs which would not have benefited the community.
Another is finding additional revenue for the district such as the $90,000 a year GDPUD will receive once SMUD has its license renewed, which should happen in the next year or two. They will receive the money for the life of the contract, which is 50 years, along with an annual cost of living increase. “We could rely on it annually for a long time to help if we need to finance some large project,” said Krizl.
The district is also being more aggressive about maintenance. “A lot of the infrastructure is over 100 years old because it’s from the old mining days. We are putting money into some big maintenance projects that will ensure a continuity of service.”
Krizl said the retrofit of the Auburn Lake Trails Plant (ALT) is a very important project, although it’s attracted a lot of consternation. He said the extensive work planned for it is necessary because the state regulators wouldn’t support a patchwork project.
“Regulatory change is one of the biggest challenges we face,” he said. “The state of California and EPA rules are changing constantly and they are getting more restrictive and more expensive. Hank reported that regulatory costs have gone up 20 percent annually. That’s a big deal. I don’t know that customers get better water quality for it and these costs are borne by our ratepayers. It’s not only more cost, but more work for our general manager and engineers. We don’t have the same volume of service (of larger water agencies) but have to comply with the same regulations.”
A last accomplishment Krizl noted is having a team of committed and technically qualified staff.
“A lot of these jobs are not ones where people come to work at 8, leave at 4:30 and that’s it. This is the kind of job where a pager can go off any time because the main ditch at Stumpy Meadow has blown out and there’s no water for the water treatment plant. That kind of stuff has to be dealt with. And you can’t do that with temp employees or brand new employees. You have to build a team who rely on each other and are willing to get up in the middle of the night, in pouring rain, to get up in the middle of a family dinner, and say I have to go to work.
“It is also a public health issue,” he said. “If we can’t provide clean, reliable, and affordable water, that’s a public health and safety issue. That elevates that commodity above everything else. It takes some skill and the right people to do those things.”
If re-elected Krizl said he wants the district to get back to things that matter to the district such as the future of the infrastructure and the future of the water supply.
“The state of California is going through a massive effort to redistribute water throughout the state and they’ve made no bones that they are looking at doing that by taking more water from the upper watershed,” he said.
“Sitting on the Mountain Counties Water Resource board, I hear a lot of things that ought to scare the whatever out of a lot of us. The state of California is making decisions without taking into account the small communities in the foothills. They just look at us like ‘you have the ability to raise rates so you can do it’. Then we become the bad guys because we have to tell our ratepayers that — guess what — we’re going have to pay more money to get the same thing. So that’s a huge challenge and I don’t see the regulatory picture getting any better. I see it getting worse.
“I’m also very concerned about the Delta Plan and Bay Delta Conservation Plan. We have our senior water rights but if we can’t show that we’re using them wisely, then they will take them away. All the water in the state belongs to the people of the state of California. We have rights to it granted by the state but those rights can change. So that’s a big deal. And that’s kind of the bigger long-range picture. I see the impact of that in coming months as they make decision on the Delta plan.”
Krizl said the district continues to be creative in its search for additional sources of revenue such as putting pipes with small turbines in them in ditches to generate electricity. However, an obstacle to the plan is the state requiring them to prove that fish won’t be harmed.
“I’d also like to bring more sanity to meetings, he said. Citing the experience of a water district in Forest Hill, he said they went through tremendous turmoil over rising water rates which they blamed on staff. In the end it cost the district a tremendous amount of money, loss of service, and eventually higher rates. “I’m very concerned that we’re headed down that road and I’d hate to see that for Georgetown,” Krizl said.
Krizl believes he should be reelected because of his previous experience on the board and his background in resource management. Citing what he says is his passion for the district’s core mission, he noted that, “We have great people who do great work. We should support them. Right now people can go to sleep at night and know the service is reliable and largely without interruption. I’d like for people to think they don’t have to worry about GDPUD. They’re doing a good job. And that’s the way it should be.”
Contact Dawn Hodson at 530-344-5071 or [email protected] Follow @DHodsonMtDemo on Twitter.