On October 1, the Goleta Water District’s moratorium on new water hookups will go into effect. After November 4, the district’s Board of Directors could have new leadership. The two candidates challenging the two incumbents for their spots spoke this week to a small crowd at the Glen Annie Golf Club about their plans for keeping the Good Land hydrated into the future.
Hosted by the Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce, the forum between landscape architects Meg West (also a member of the city’s Planning Commission) and Charles McClure (who chairs the Goleta Cemetery District) involved talk of installing a “toilet-to-tap” program and increasing incentives for homeowners who cut back on water use. Boardmember Bert Bertrando, who has held his seat since 2006, declined to attend, and his colleague Jack Cunningham — on the board since 1995 — backed out at the last minute. Notable city figures showed up for the conversation, including Mayor Michael Bennett, councilmembers Tony Vallejo and Paula Perotte, and current water boardmembers Bill Rosen and Lauren Hanson. The district spans approximately 29,000 acres, involves 270 miles of pipes, and serves about 85,000 customers.
(Gurgling outside the meeting room throughout the forum was the golf club’s lake, which general manager Rich Nahas said relies — and has since 1997 — entirely on recycled water treated by the Goleta Sanitary District and provided by the Goleta Water District. The lake is filled up during the day, Nahas said, and at night is pumped out to irrigate the golf course. Nahas called the system “a huge blessing in times like this.”)
“If we do our job well, then people won’t have to worry about water during a drought,” said Meg West, making her pitch first. A Goleta resident for eight years, West cited her tenure as a landscape architect and consequential “boots on the ground” experience working on water-conservation systems and her “qualifications, interest, and energy” as reasons why voters should elect her to one of the two seats. Endorsed by Rosen, Hanson, and Boardmember Rick Merrifield — plus Supervisors Janet Wolf and Salud Carbajal, councilmembers Jim Farr and Perotte, and former councilmembers Margaret Connell and Ed Easton — West stressed that the district needs to find a “magic balance” between conservation and development. If elected to the board — she said she’s attended meetings since January — West said her goals would include preparing the district for both a prolonged drought and an El Niño, encouraging residents to transition from lawns to drought-tolerant plants, and supporting a plan to have the meetings recorded for greater public access.
For McClure, who has owned his landscaping company for 25 years, priorities would revolve around controlling the district’s costs by limiting overhead and keeping rates affordable. A Cal Poly grad who first attended UCSB, McClure took issue with asking residents to reduce their water use at the same time that new construction projects are approved and said incentive-based programs for homeowners would be preferable to punitive measures. Consumer education matters to him, he said, suggesting that the district’s newsletter be expanded. Preserving the rainwater that Goleta does get and directing it to the groundwater supply would also be a priority of his, McClure said, adding that if elected, he would be “happy to offer my time and expertise to the community.”
During a Q&A session, West and McClure shared their thoughts on the district possibly looking into a “toilet-to-tap” system, where reclaimed water could be used for drinking water. McClure said the idea would prove a tough sell for consumers and could be cost prohibitive. West, though, said it could be worth considering, pointing to Orange County’s program that turns 70 million gallons per day into drinking water; however, the treatment plant, West said, cost close to $500 million. Asked for their thoughts on the voter-okayed SAFE Water Supplies Ordinance, which put rules in place for times of drought, West noted her support by calling it the “rainy day fund for a not-rainy day,” while McClure said he wasn’t familiar with the ordinance. Where the two challengers agreed was on the struggle of reconciling the district’s need to sell water to fund itself with its need to impose restrictions. “That is the big conundrum,” McClure said, with West adding that conservation measures can mean decreased operating costs but that the district’s financial situation needs to be protected.
The candidates will face off next on October 8 at 6 p.m. at the Goleta Valley Community Center.