The Idyllwild Water District’s Consolidation Committee held another meeting Tuesday evening, Aug. 28. Committee Chair Peter Szabadi told the attendees that he planned to encourage his fellow directors to engage the community in future efforts about greater water-district cooperation. In his opinion, this process needs to originate within the community rather than from a district.
As Director David Hunt has said at several IWD meetings, a consolidation committee, which the IWD board has created, appears to residents of the other two water districts — Fern Valley and Pine Cove — to be an effort to take them over.
Committee member Sue Nash agreed with the sentiment to revive a citizen-advisory committee.
Attending as a community member and officially as a water director was Jim Rees, director at FVWD. He thought the efforts to improve watershed management could be productive and was unsure of the benefits of consolidation. “Bigger is not always better, but the review of watershed is important,” he shared with the committee.
Among the community participants was Trudy Levy, who has recently organized a citizens group — the San Jacinto Watershed Watchdogs. She suggested this group might be the magnet to attract greater community interest in furthering work to benefit all the districts.
Its mission statement says, “The position of greatest strength for our community to survive will be for our three water districts to work together. We are asking our water districts to work together to come up with a plan to Save Our Watershed.”
The group would like to see a Hill advisory committee serve “… our communities’ common interests by making recommendations to the constituent boards to create joint cooperative projects and to examine money saving opportunities.”
Much of the public comment at the meeting was offered from Pine Cove residents Nancy Borchers and Jeff Smith. Both expressed their lack of trust in the IWD board, and enumerated many past projects and activities, which they believe were efforts that would have harmed the Pine Cove community, even if unintended or accidental.
For example, they referred to the property that IWD acquired in August 2016. Pine Cove residents challenged the board about the purpose for the parcels in December 2016. The Pine Cove residents felt the property would be used to monitor water quality after IWD pumped its wastewater into Foster Lake.
Then-IWD President John Cook responded, “The parcels were acquired to gain hydrologic data for Lily Creek.”
“We are able to stand up to bullies,” Borchers stated. “We don’t want to see it again.” She later urged the board to use some of its cash to drill new wells.
Szabadi opened the meeting describing his research into the history of formal cooperation among the three districts in the past 25 years. He described a grand-jury report from 1994 that alleged nearly $400,000 in savings could be gained if the three districts were one; but a subsequent study by the district found the savings to be substantially less.
He also mentioned the joint powers agency, the San Jacinto Mountains Water Study Agency, but this expired at the end of 2013. And IWD’s former General Manager Tom Lovejoy prepared several reports of his own, without involving either of the other districts.
Szabadi noted that the three districts are able to informally cooperate and wished to find a way to create a formal mechanism for greater cooperation, such as agreeing to the same emergency water (drought) status or funding joint projects.