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Residents concerned about irrigation rate increases

RANCHO SANTA FE — For the second time this year, Association members have come to the meeting asking the board to be aware of what is happening at the Santa Fe Irrigation District. Although they know the Association has no authority over i, the speakers said they hope the board will take note anyway.
Greg Gruzdowich told the Association at its March 3 meeting that he is concerned about the irrigation district’s recent rate increase.
“We’ve already seen a rate raise and I think we will see more and more and more. It is an unregulated monopoly,” he said.
He said if the Association board would select someone to attend the irrigation board meetings, which fall on the same time and day of the Association’s, that he or she would get up to speed pretty quickly.
“They could get some facts and figures you could put your arms around,” Gruzdowich said.
When Gruzdowich spoke on the same subject at the Association’s first meeting of the new year, he said he believes the irrigation district is not telling the whole story about the rate increases. He said the district is using the money to defuse a “pension time bomb,” which allows workers to retire at age 55 and receive most of their salaries and that reserves are being used for benefits and perks for employees.
“I need not tell you that water is a concern to 100 percent of the people here,” said Sam Ursini, another speaker at the meeting.
Ursini said he echoed Gruzdowich’s concerns and told the Association that at certain times of the year, the north east end of the reservoir near the Covenant starts to smell “pretty bad.”
“The cat tails and weeds are starting to take the whole place over,” Ursini said. “It’s an awful, awful sight. It’s a swamp that needs to be dredged.”
He said that funds that could be used for projects such as this are being used for other purposes within the district.
Jeanne Deaver, administrative manager for the water district, said the federal Division of Dam Safety requires the reservoir be lowered in the winter.
“If we have rainfall like we did, the reservoir needs to have the capacity to capture any of the runoff. We lowered it twice, once in December and again in January. When that happens it exposes some silt along the edges of the reservoir and until it dries it gives off an odor,” she said.
She said there is not much that can be done about it because it is habitat for many animals and cannot be dredged. She said the district is working on a master plan that is looking at jointly owned facilities such as this which is also owned by the San Dieguito Water District, which could help make improvements to the reservoir.
Speaking to the rate increase, Deaver said district officials approved it because of the skyrocketing costs of imported water and that it was also necessary to provide safe, reliable water, water for fire flow and the implementation of maintenance and replacing of infrastructure. Approved were a 12 percent increase in January and a 12 percent increase for the next two years.
Because of the ever-rising cost of imported water, employees will be paying more into their retirement accounts and will not receive raises for at least two years, she said.
She also said that there is no “pension time bomb,” because employees pay into their retirement on an annual basis.
“We budget for that,” she said. “It is not a problem.” She added that employees have been paying into CalPers since the 1970s.