Jim Gates is the newest director at the Fern Valley Water District (FVWD). He was appointed on June 3 and fills the second year of former Director George Rowell’s term. Rowell resigned in April after moving out of state. He was appointed in 2018.
Only Gates filed papers to run in the August election for the second half of the term. Consequently, the district did not have to hold an election. The Riverside County Board of Supervisors appointed Gates to the remaining two years of the term, which expires December 2021.
Gates has an extensive background in water utility science. He was a chemist with the Metropolitan Water District (MWD) for 33 years. In addition to helping develop the water utility science program at Santiago Canyon College in Orange, he also served as the program’s chair.
These full-time jobs did not deter him or his wife, Eileen, a former nurse, from buying, fixing up and reselling nine houses during their 52-year marriage. “I knew I wouldn’t make enough with a water district,” he said describing this hobby or, perhaps, second profession.
In fact, while living in Hemet, the couple found a cabin in Idyllwild. It quickly became confining, and eventually, they bought their current residence.
A native Californian, Gates graduated from California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo with a chemistry degree. After retiring from MWD, he returned to school and earned a doctorate degree in education. This helped him establish and build the water utility science curriculum at Santiago Canyon College.
One of the problems he worked on at MWD involved the presence of chromium 6 in the water. While a naturally occurring chemical, it is carcinogenic. The 2000 movie, “Erin Brockovitch,” brought the problem to the public’s attention.
During his time at MWD, Glendale Water was concerned about the presence of chromium 6 and Gates was involved in the analysis. “But it was not an issue at MWD,” he sated. “The water supply is too large and dilutes any chromium 6 present below the state standards.”
Gates has water board experience, too. For 10 years, he served on the board of the Castaic Lake Water Agency in Santa Clarita.
One reason Gates sought the position on the FVWD board was his concern that the number of full-time Fern Valley residents might grow. He wants to be sure FVWD has sufficient water resources to absorb the potential increase in the number of permanent customers.
“Small water companies can be overwhelmed very quickly,” he said. “If vacation owners all of sudden are not here just on vacation, there could be a water shortage.”
He quickly stressed that FVWD has plenty of adequate water resources for its current customer base and incremental increases, but wants to ensure a plan in case the rate of growth suddenly accelerates.
“It’s a potential resource issue and I just want to make sure FVWD has an adequate supply if demand goes up,” he continued.
Gates has discussed the issue with FVWD General Manager Victor Jimenez, who is confidant that the district has sufficient water and can develop more if growth exceeds expectations.
Jimenez is very comfortable with the current water supplies. If part-time residents became full-time residents, it would not happen immediately. “It wouldn’t happen overnight and we’d have time to look for additional resources,” he said. “Besides, there aren’t any lawns up here.”
He and Jimenez agree on recent issues. With his chemistry background, Gates concurred with Jimenez that the water samples from the FVWD treatment plant were wrong. When the total organic carbon levels showed higher volume leaving the plant than entering it, he knew from experience that was not true.
The district’s financial position raises no concerns for Gates. He notes that FVWD has had a positive balance for several years.
One of his surprises since joining the board is the difference between small and large water entities. Much more comes before the FVWD board than he saw at the larger districts.
For example, while at MWD, the agency was aware of a “little leak” for nearly 10 years. When repaired, the 10 acre-feet annual loss went unnoticed. However, that volume is much greater than FVWD’s annual production.
In his 48 years as a water manager and water educator, Gates has influenced and impacted the careers of many water employees and managers. A few years ago, while attending an American Water Works Association meeting in San Diego, he realized that he knew most of the attendees. Many had taken courses he had developed at Santiago Canyon College or done some of the early work at MWD.
His interest in education spans across continents. He and Eileen have twice gone to China to teach English as a second language during the summers.