Endorsement: Heneveld, Foreman for Valley of the Moon water board

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It’s easy to overlook the importance of a water district board of directors. After all, as long as the H20 is flowing at an affordable rate – what’s to worry about?

Well, plenty – if you’re a member of the Valley of the Moon Water District Board, that is. From beating back the tides of rising rates and setting district water policy to modernizing operational technologies and repairing aging infrastructure, serving 25,000 customers their daily dose of Russian River waters through 7,000 connections is no day on the lake. Or reservoir, as the case may be.

One of the biggest challenges many water districts across the state are facing these days is a general increase in rates for the lowest water users – the very folks districts in the past have tried to reward for their conservation efforts. But that’s no longer allowed thanks to a change in state law spurred on by a 2015 ruling in a lawsuit against the City of San Juan Capistrano, which held that “tiered” water rate structures – a popular way for water districts to encourage conservation by charging higher rates for higher water users – are illegal. The state appellate court reviewing that case held that rate tiers must be tied directly to the actual costs of services.

Like its neighbor, the Sonoma Water Agency, the dissolution of tiered rate structures has led to an increase in VOM water district rates of about 8 percent for moderate users this year, with similar annual increases to come.

The true value of water is no longer a philosophical question – it’s a monthly reminder on your billing statement.

On the Nov. 6 ballot, four candidates are running for two seats on the Valley of the Moon Water District Board: Incumbents Jon Foreman and Mark Heneveld are seeking re-election and facing challenges from first-time candidates Steve Rogers and Dale Ingraham.

Foreman describes himself as the “grizzled veteran” of the board – he was appointed in 2012. He says his telecommunications background in telephone cable pressurization had him well prepped to understand the principals of a pressurized water system. Despite recent court rulings that prevent water-rate tiers from being conservation-based, he says that serious conservation measures must continue to ensure adequate water supply. “There is no other way,” Foreman told the Index-Tribune. “The state has not been building any new water storage and, with our growing population, that could spell disaster.”

Foreman says that, to him, “there is nothing more important than our customers” and he hopes to continue his role as “customer advocate.”

Mark Heneveld came to the board in 2014 in the hopes of pushing the district toward keeping a better eye on the Valley’s groundwater supply. Equally high on his list of priorities is conservation, mitigating rate increases and keeping a “lean, mean” team of district employees in place to avoid the costly staff turnover that had plagued the district in the past. Heneveld supported recent salary increases for district employees, telling the Index-Tribune he’d rather retain a small group of high-quality service providers than continually lose good workers to higher-paying districts. “We’re not big enough to afford to be a training facility for water employees,” he said.

Heneveld says he’s passionate about upholding the VOM district’s primary mandate: “Save, equitable, clean drinking water.”

When it comes to politics, the campaign for VOMWD is both Ingraham’s and Rogers’ first rodeo.

Dale Ingraham has been a Valley resident for 60 years, is a licensed general engineer and building contractor and, at 70, is retired from the City of Vallejo as an underground improvements inspector in its civil engineering department. Ingraham is particularly sympathetic to district customers over the state-mandated rate increases and hopes residents can find ways to balance that out, such as voting for Prop. 6’s proposed repeal of the gas tax increase.

He says his primary interest is to “protect our ratepayers from wasteful spending where possible, while keeping an eye out for projects requiring large future obligations of us ratepayers.”

Steve Rogers spent much of his working life in the telecommunications industry before retiring; he’s currently the President of the Chantarelle Home Owners Association. Chantarelle was among the communities which caused a well-deserved stir two years ago when nearly a thousand customers were informed of a state mandate requiring them to foot the bill – to the tune of more than $1,000 -- for new “backflow” devices (needed to prevent tainted water from flowing back into the water supply).

He’s taken issue with some of the rate increases the district has made in recent years and is calling for a new “rate study” to find ways to lessen the state-mandated increases for the lower water users. He’s also suggesting developing a series of fines to penalize the higher water consumers. Rogers is skeptical of the district’s recent salary increases for employees and wants to hire a consulting firm to conduct an independent audit of salaries.

While it’s rarely entirely smooth sailing for local water districts navigating the myriad needs of their customer base – the so-called “new normal” of drought, fire danger and general climate unpredictability makes these particularly precarious times for water watchdogs.

Local water districts have had multiple wrenches thrown at them from the state in recent years – from mandated rate restructuring to meeting strict new conservation standards to the always-present need to upgrade aging equipment. Valley of the Moon is no different.

Water is an increasingly valuable commodity. And its use, availability, pricing and cleanliness are going to become more strained in the years ahead. “When the well’s dry, we know the worth of water,” Benjamin Franklin said.

And it’s reassuring to know that VOM district voters have four qualified board candidates who can appreciate that worth.

While we haven’t agreed with every decision of the Valley of the Moon Water District board, Heneveld and Foreman have shown themselves to be thoughtful, dedicated and knowledgeable stewards of the Valley water system. All four candidates stress the ongoing importance of conservation, safety and reasonable rates. We hope that, whomever serves on the board this next term, they keep those values buoyed on their list of priorities.

We recommend Mark Heneveld and Jon Foreman for Valley of the Moon Water District board of directors.

– Jason Walsh, associate publisher & editor

– Emily Charrier, publisher

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