Commentary: Careful planning keeps water costs down for customers

Opinion section
Valley News - Opinion

Greg Thomas

Elsinore Valley Municipal Water District

With one out of every nine Californians out of work and the coronavirus pandemic continuing to impact the economy, many families are struggling financially. They are carefully monitoring every dollar and reexamining each expense. Rest assured, Elsinore Valley Municipal Water District is doing the same.

Providing safe, affordable, reliable service to customers is of utmost importance to EVMWD. Our team of skilled professionals work around the clock so that you have high quality water 24/7, 365 days a year. Rigorously tested to ensure that it meets all state and federal guidelines, your tap water is safe and clean. Here’s even more good news: it still comes at less than a penny per gallon, even with changing state water regulations and increasing imported water costs.

Water rates and charges are based on the actual cost of providing service. Rates are reviewed periodically by independent experts to ensure all fees recover those costs, which include procuring and distributing water, operations and maintenance, debt service, capital projects and the ability to meet financial management targets.

The most effective means of keeping rates low is by controlling expenses. While inflation and ever-changing state and federal mandates are out of our control, we reduce our short- and long-term costs through prudent fiscal planning and active management.

Since 2009, EVMWD has secured $6 million in cost reductions, saving the average customer $11 each month. Most of the money included in these savings was realized through reducing contract services, adjusting benefit plans for new employees, eliminating unnecessary staff positions and utilizing new technology that saves on labor and other expenses.

As we work diligently to keep our operating costs as low as possible, EVMWD also seeks ways to limit expenses for capital projects. While necessary to ensure reliable delivery of clean water to our customers, pipe replacements, capacity improvements and technology necessitated by new regulations can cost millions of dollars.

Tapping into grants, or government money, means our customers reap the benefits of capital projects without a financial burden. When grants are not available, EVMWD applies for low-interest loans. Between grants and low-interest loans, EVMWD will save customers $3.81 per month over the next 20 years.

As EVMWD works to reduce expenses, we also seek out smart investment opportunities. This includes projects where spending money now actually saves ratepayers money in the long run.

Between 2017 and 2019, EVMWD replaced more than 9,300 feet of water pipelines and nearly 14,000 feet of wastewater pipelines. Proactively replacing older pipes reduces leaks and avoids ruptures, which are far more expensive to repair and disruptive to our customers. While it may be tempting to cut these projects during tough times, deferring maintenance would actually cost more in the long run.

A significant portion of the rates goes toward purchasing water. One quarter of the water supply comes from local wells. The rest of the water needed to meet demand is imported from the State Water Project. This source is considerably more expensive, making up 28 cents of every dollar paid on monthly bills.

Anything that increases the local supply or reduces demand ultimately cuts costs for customers. As an example, the conversion of EVMWD’s Flagler Wells from an agricultural supply to drinking water tapped into an additional source that provides enough water for 3,000 homes each year. This project eliminated the need to purchase more than 488 million gallons of more expensive imported water.

As we all look for ways to stretch our dollars, the public can rest assured that Elsinore Valley Municipal Water District continues to make fiscally responsible decisions in the best long-term interests of our customers.

Greg Thomas is the general manager of Elsinore Valley Municipal Water District.