As California continues to battle serious drought conditions, and climate change promises ongoing severity in weather patterns, water management has come to the forefront statewide. MIR sat down with Randy Record shortly after he was named Chair of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California’s Board of Directors. Record, who has sat on the Board for over ten years, speaks to his background in agriculture, MWD’s priorities, and a potential water bond in Sacramento. Record describes the importance of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, as well. This interview follows MIR’s conversation with MWD General Manager Jeff Kightlinger in the June 2014 issue.
“I don’t believe the public will support a water bond unless it gets the governor’s support.” -Randy Record
You were recently elected Chair of the Metropolitan Water District Board of Directors after serving 10 years on the MWD Board. Please share your priorities, and what your ascendency to the chair means—if anything—for the board’s future agenda.
Randy Record: I think that my focus will be on the completion of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan so that we can determine what our obligations will be. No matter how that turns out, equally important is a focus on local projects.
Met has a history of assisting with the local projects of their member agencies. We need to step that up and give it additional attention. The BDCP is about protecting the water we currently receive from northern California—roughly 30 percent of Southern California’s water supply. It’s very important, but we need to develop new local supplies to meet future demands. Besides, it will be 10 to 15 years before the BDCP tunnels are fully operational. Until then, our imported supplies are at risk so we need to develop more local resources.
Your background is in agriculture. You are a member of numerous farming groups—from the Riverside County Farm Bureau, to the Western Growers Association, to the California Association of Winegrape Growers. How does your background contribute to the 37-member MWD board deliberations?
I think that it brings value. The most important part is relationships with agriculture. MWD has some very strong ones, and I’d like to help continue those relationships and develop new ones.
I don’t think the perception exists anymore that urban and agriculture are competing for water. I believe people understand that we work really well together. Dry year transfers, fallowing programs, water-use efficiency projects, as well as storage partnerships, are all part of what we do, have done, and will do in the future. And it’s critical to have a healthy agricultural economy to be a part of the funding of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan.
I’m proud of the fact that I am a farmer. That’s my background. While president of ACWA, I traveled throughout the state meeting people and developing relationships. I’m pleased that I can bring that experience to the Met Board.
Drought is the number one issue of the day for California. In last month’s issue of MIR, Jeff Kightlinger noted that $2 billion had already been invested in state water storage projects, and that the next wave of MWD investments in Southern California will be focused on recycled water, groundwater, and basin cleanup. Is that consistent with your view of the priorities at MWD? And with your constituents—the agricultural community in Riverside and the Inland Empire?
Yes, that is consistent with my priorities. It goes back to local projects. My agency, the Eastern Municipal Water District, is a good example. We have four water reclamation plants and a recycled-water distribution system that ties all those plants together. We sell 30,000 acre-feet of recycled water annually to agriculture, on average. It would be hard to imagine agriculture continuing to do as well as it does in our service area without that recycled water.
We also utilize recycled water anywhere we can to replace potable water—in parks, as well as landscaping and industrial uses. We have an energy plant that uses recycled water for cooling. We also provide recycled water to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife for wildlife habitat.
Groundwater basin cleanup is a component of future storage. We know there’s climate change. We know that we won’t be able to rely on snowpack for storage. It makes sense to distribute that water to groundwater basins close to where the water will ultimately be consumed. A certain amount of surface storage will be needed to quickly capture high flows when it’s least harmful to the environment. But there’s no question that groundwater basins are a big part of the future.
Jeff Kightlinger also noted in his MIR interview that despite adding 5 million people over the last 20 years, Southern California has actually reduced overall water use. But conservation—pushing down demand for water—is not a consistent priority throughout the state. How does MWD communicate to those who may oppose a new bond that will increase the reliability of water in Southern California that water-supply reliability is MWD’s top goal?
That’s difficult. Along with what we’ve accomplished on conservation, we’ve also done a good job of increasing storage, a big part of our reliability mission. By constructing the Inland Feeder and Diamond Valley Lake we’ve been able to double Southern California’s water storage portfolio, with new storage on the west side of the San Andreas Fault. Our ratepayers should be proud of the role they’ve played to create significant new infrastructure for water supply reliability.
Governor Brown and key California lawmakers are working to fashion a multi-billion state water bond by June 26. What’s MWD’s interest in the outcome of these negotiations, and what would likely win the support of the public if it were on the ballot in November?
I don’t believe the public will support a water bond unless it gets the governor’s support. He has just recently advocated for a $6 billion bond, which is obviously significantly smaller than the $11 billion bond the legislature crafted in 2009.
MWD’s interest is funding for local water projects throughout the state, including investments in recycled water as well as groundwater basins. Equally important is investing in Delta habitat for environmental restoration.
The impetus for a new water bond includes investment in the Delta’s environment, with co-equal goals: water supply reliability and habitat restoration. Elaborate on how those two goals and the Delta are intertwined.
The Sacramento –San Joaquin Delta ecosystem has been in trouble for some time. Loss of wetlands, increased pollutants, and invasive species have all contributed to the Delta’s decline. Pumping export water through the Delta adds to the problem. As a result, pumping is continually restricted. The situation is not sustainable for the fish or the water supply. Recognizing that both are important, the state adopted the co-equal goals of water supply reliability and ecosystem restoration for the Delta in 2009. A water bond was part of that landmark water legislation package. As proposed, it would fund a wide-range of water projects and provide money for the most comprehensive habitat conservation plan on the western seaboard—our equivalent of the Everglades—as part of the BDCP. The BDCP is one of the first significant projects that really identified co-equal goals. Both goals are important. Both deserve respect.
News reports suggest that anti-tunnel Delta water groups are geared up to oppose the water bond, much as they did decades ago. What is your view on how to factually join the discussion about what that bond ought to include and what the opposition ought to be cognizant of regarding Southern California’s water needs/priorities?
Let’s be clear, the tunnels are not paid for with bond money but by the users of the exported water. The bond should be considered in the context in which it was intended—to aid in water supply reliability development throughout the state. The tunnels are a part of that supply reliability, and they also aid in managing the Delta’s ecosystem for a multitude of species.
If TPR were to interview you again in early 2015, what would be your talking points regarding MWD?
There’s a lot of discussion about a potential El Niño condition, but we should remember that there are dry as well as wet El Niños. If it’s dry, there’s no question that water will have to be allocated. If it’s wet, MWD will attempt to replenish storage while reminding the public of the need for long-term infrastructure investments to even out the wet and dry years. Our climate is changing and our population continues to grow, we need to respond to those challenges.