Importance of an Informed Vote on Rainbow and Fallbrook Water Ballot Measure
Residents in Rainbow and Fallbrook are being asked to make an important decision about their water supply on Election Day. The Rainbow Municipal Water District and Fallbrook Public Utility District have applied to change water providers – from the San Diego County Water Authority to Eastern Municipal Water District in Riverside County which will deliver water purchased from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD). The proposed change requires voter approval and could lead to changes for families and businesses in this part of San Diego County if it passes.
Here’s what happens next in Rainbow and Fallbrook if their local voters approve the change
- The two water agencies would seek any necessary approvals to buy MWD water from Eastern
- Rainbow and Fallbrook would need to purchase existing infrastructure at an additional cost
- The Water Authority will seek from Rainbow, Fallbrook and LAFCO an indemnity and release from any liability of their customers’ wildfire risk, loss of property values, and any other damages alleged to be caused by the change in water providers
- All connections to San Diego County’s water supply would be removed once new infrastructure is in place.
“The superior reliability of SDCWA’s supply has benefitted FPUD and RMWD in the past.”
– Dr. Micheal Hanemann, UC Berkeley (ret.) 1
1 Hanemann Report to San Diego LAFCO, page 14
Water Authority seeks to protect San Diegans from rate increases
The San Diego County Water Authority filed suit against the San Diego Local Agency Formation Commission, or LAFCO, in August 2023 to protect the environment and stop an immediate rate increase from harming farms, working families, small businesses, and other water ratepayers across San Diego County.
The lawsuit challenges the decision by LAFCO to allow two local water agencies to leave the Water Authority without paying their fair share of costs incurred on their behalf over the past few decades. The “detachment” effort is the first of its kind in California, and it would shift more than $140 million in costs from the Fallbrook and Rainbow water agencies to residents and businesses in the rest of the Water Authority’s service area, raising water rates across the county as soon as January 2024.
According to the lawsuit, LAFCO failed to comply with several laws, including the County Water Authority Act, the Metropolitan Water District Act, the Cortese-Knox-Hertzberg Local Government Reorganization Act of 2000, and the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA. During the three-year process of detachment – also called “reorganization” – the Water Authority raised numerous substantive concerns about LAFCO’s approach and methods; however, LAFCO disregarded critical problems to reach its pre-determined goal of approving detachment.
Member Agency Plan Would Abandon Costs and Reduce Supply Reliability
Numerous financial, environmental and legal issues that affect property owners and water users across San Diego County are analyzed in the Water Authority’s formal response to the reorganization proposals filed with the San Diego County Local Agency Formation Commission, known as LAFCO.
The detailed document (plus dozens of exhibits) shows that plans by the Fallbrook Public Utility District and the Rainbow Municipal Water District contain significant areas of misleading or incomplete information that must be addressed before LAFCO and all of the interested parties countywide can understand the full scope of impacts that would be created by detachment. The LAFCO process is expected to take at least another year.
Abandoning Financial Obligations
As proposed by Fallbrook and Rainbow, the detachments would allow Fallbrook and Rainbow to avoid paying for water supplies and infrastructure that have been developed in collaboration with those agencies and are currently being used by those agencies to meet their customers’ needs. Abandoning those cost obligations would force other ratepayers countywide to cover their portion of the bills already incurred for decades of investments in supply reliability.
Lowering Water Supply Reliability
Under detachment, Fallbrook and Rainbow would lose access to the Water Authority’s more reliable water supply, its storage and infrastructure in times of drought and emergency, and other services provided by the Water Authority to its member agencies. Instead, Fallbrook and Rainbow would rely solely on the Los Angeles-based Metropolitan Water District of Southern California for imported water supplies, which Eastern would provide for a small administrative fee. If approved, the agencies’ proposals would result in a degraded level of service compared to what is currently provided by the Water Authority; the two North County agencies would not have access to Eastern’s water supplies, storage or infrastructure.
Risking 30 Years of Infrastructure Investments
This would for all practical purposes turn the clock back for Fallbrook and Rainbow to the early 1990s, when the Water Authority was 95% dependent on MWD. Due to a drought at that time, MWD cut San Diego County’s municipal water supply by 30% and agricultural supply by 90%, creating significant economic damage. To avoid that from happening again, the Water Authority made significant investments in water reliability contracts and infrastructure. As a result, during both of the past two droughts, when MWD made significant cuts to their customers’ water supplies, the Water Authority was able to provide a higher level of service to San Diego County ratepayers.
The reorganization proposals raise other significant issues, including:
- Increasing pressure on the environmentally sensitive Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay-Delta, in contravention of state law. Consistent with state law, the Water Authority’s portfolio is less dependent on water from Northern California than MWD supplies, and it is planned to grow even less dependent each passing year.
- Significant engineering changes will be necessary to detach – not only changes to the Water Authority system, but also new infrastructure, including new pipelines, pumping facilities, and water mains, particularly in Rainbow. These issues are minimized or ignored in the applications.
- Detachment will decrease San Diego County’s voting rights at MWD by 1.7% while increasing Eastern/Riverside County’s voting rights at MWD by 10.2%. This loss for San Diego County is significant because Eastern has a long record of taking positions counter to San Diego County interests, including support for increased taxes and water rates that would impact local water ratepayers and taxpayers.
- Water Authority Combined Response to Reorganization Applications by Rainbow/Fallbrook – Sept. 2020
- Index to Appendix to Water Authority Combined Response to Reorganization Applications by Fallbrook/Rainbow
Board Acts to Protect Ratepayers
In May 2020, the Water Authority’s Board of Directors voted to oppose detachment unless four conditions can be met related to:
- Protecting Fallbrook and Rainbow ratepayers
- Avoiding negative impacts for other member agencies
- Protecting the Bay-Delta
- Maintaining the Water Authority’s voting rights at MWD.