GOLETA WATER DISTRICT

INTRODUCTION

Several letters of complaint regarding the Goleta Water District (Exhibit A) prompted the Grand Jury (GJ) to conduct an investigation into the areas of :

 

PROCEDURE

The Grand Jury conducted interviews with the complainant, the Goleta Water District (GWD) General Manager, several current and retired personnel, the State Department of Health Services (Division of Drinking Water) personnel, Service Employees International Union (SEIU),Local 620 AFL/CIO, Corona Del Mar Water Treatment Plant personnel and the Cater Water Treatment Plant Superintendent. Several on site visits to Corona Del Mar Treatment Plant and a visit to Cater Water Treatment Plant in Santa Barbara were made. Additionally, the GJ reviewed the Goleta Water District’s financial statements (including the audited 1998-June 30, 1999 and the 1999-2000 Final Budget), organizational charts, general information booklets, the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between SEIU Local 620 and the Goleta Water District, the Personnel Policies Manual and shift schedules from both Corona Del Mar and Cater treatment plants.

OBSERVATIONS

The Goleta Water District (GWD), established on November 17, 1944, covers 32,000 acres extending from Santa Barbara’s city limits to El Capitan State Beach. It is bounded on the south by the ocean and on the north by the foothills of the Santa Ynez Mountains. Its 250 miles of pipeline deliver potable water to approximately 75,000 residents. Its Mission Statement reads:

“To provide an adequate supply of quality water at the most reasonable cost to the present and future customers within the Goleta Water District.”

The majority of Goleta’s water supply (approximately 9,300 acre feet annually) comes from Lake Cachuma. The State Water Project supplies another 4,500 acre feet. The District also has the right to extract 2,500 acre feet annually from 11 District owned wells and additionally

can use 13 other privately and publicly owned wells for injection of treated water to recharge the ground water basin. Since conservation methods have greatly reduced the District’s reliance on groundwater, the standby wells have been somewhat neglected. Together with the Goleta Sanitary District, the GWD constructed a wastewater reclamation plant in 1993 that produces about 1000 acre feet of recycled water for irrigation purposes.

 

Personnel Relations And High Employee Turnover

GWD employees, with the exception of management, belong to SEIU Local 620. From January to October 1999, out of a total employment of 45, the GWD had three resignations, five retirements and two promotions. Two new positions were created. One resignation was due to pregnancy and three retirements took advantage of a new CALPERS (California Public Employees Retirement System) ruling that was recently adopted by the GWD Board. In the last 18 months problems with two employees were internally resolved in lieu of filing grievances. The GJ was told that complaints of verbal abuse and harassment were investigated and resolved. A Memorandum of Understanding between GWD and SEIU Local 620 is in operation from July 1, 1998 to June 30, 2001. A comprehensive Personnel Policies Manual, issued on Aug. 23, 1999, includes a section on Harassment and Discrimination Policy revised on Nov. 8, 1999.

The Goleta Water District offers its employees excellent salaries and benefits. A progressive management team now sends staff to professional workshops and conferences . However a necessary corollary to this is a good working environment. Management needs to exercise a policy of zero tolerance on harassment and discrimination as outlined in its Personnel Policies Manual to ensure that mutual respect and harmonious working relations are maintained.

Corona Del Mar Water Treatment Plant And Chronic Under-staffing

Corona Del Mar is GWD’s water filtration plant that treats Lake Cachuma surface water and State water to make sure that its potable water meets standards imposed by the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). An average of approximately 13 million gallons are treated daily, although during peak conditions the plant can handle as much as 36 million gallons. An elevation of 630 feet allows the water to move by gravity flow to seven reservoirs (capacity 13 million gallons) and to be delivered without pumping to most District customers. GWD is planning to construct the Los Carneros Reservoir to increase its storage capacity.

To meet the increasingly stringent requirements of the Environmental Protection Agency, a $5.5 million renovation project is currently underway at Corona Del Mar. A new filtration system using granular activated carbon filters will be more efficient. Changing from liquid chlorine to sodium hypochlorite will be safer and will result in higher quality water. New chemical storage areas are being built. . New control valves at each stage of the water treatment process will allow greater control. SCADA (Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition), an automated monitoring system, will make it easier for staff to monitor the treatment plant 24 hours a day and use laptop computers when not on site.

The capital investment and improvement efforts are commendable. However, when interviewing plant personnel, the Grand Jury was made painfully aware of the original complaint: a chronic shortage of qualified staff. Corona Del Mar has a skeleton staff of seven - the Supervisor (Grade 5), two Grade 4 operators, two Grade 3 operators and two Grade 2 operators. But one Grade 3 operator is the laboratory technician and one Grade 2 operator is in maintenance. The laboratory technician conducts tests for odor, turbidity, etc, does filter tests and other studies and prepares monthly reports for the State Department of Health Services. Other tests are done by outside contractors. Besides working at Corona Del Mar, the Grade 2 operator also has other duties in the District. Operators work the day shift (7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.). There are two eight hour shifts from 4 p.m. to 7:30 a.m., manned by security guards, so for 16 hours there is no operator on duty. During the day staff is further depleted when members go off site to operate the Glen Annie Turn Off, collect water samples for bacterial analysis, check chlorine residuals, look for leaks, make trips to troubleshoot, or when two are needed to change chlorine cylinders at Glen Canyon and Ellwood. The situation is exacerbated during personal emergencies, illness, or vacation. In order to assure coverage, staff members work overtime weekly and are “on call” duty.

The acute shortage of operating staff leads to many problems, such as delayed maintenance, lack of timely response in cases of emergency and stress on personnel. This may jeopardize the quality of potable water that is being delivered to GWD customers and may lead to citations. Preventive maintenance is impossible. Instead of anticipating problems, they are fixed when they arise. Staff members are hard pressed to complete everything that should be done in eight hours, and filters, for instance, cannot be changed as often as they should. On the average, operators respond to emergency calls twice or three times a week and once or twice a night depending upon the weather and water usage. In fact, although Corona Del Mar is 10 years younger than Cater Treatment Plant, a walk through the physical plant shows a certain amount of neglect when compared to Cater’s well-maintained facility. Even after SCADA is completely installed, when alarm systems indicate excess turbidity or chemical leaks, it is still the operator who has to address the problems in a timely fashion. Security guards just cannot do it.

The remoteness of the location is also of concern. Corona Del Mar is reached by following an uphill winding country road about three and a half miles from Highway 101. It passes a small bridge over a dry stream that becomes torrential after big rain storms. In 1995 and other years, excessive rains also brought down trees that blocked access to the plant and prevented staff from coming or going. Natural emergencies do occur, and when no staff is in attendance or available to respond, it puts the whole treatment plant operation in jeopardy.

Cater Water Treatment Plant

The Grand Jury visited the Cater Water Treatment Plant to compare functions and staff sizes. The Cater Plant is 10 years older than Corona Del Mar, slightly larger in capacity and serves approximately 45,000 more residents. It was completed in 1964 and supplies potable water to about 120,000 residents within the city of Santa Barbara, Montecito, Summerland and Carpinteria. The plant is very accessible via Foothill Road. It treats an average of 19 million gallons daily, has capacity to treat 37 million gallons (versus 36 million gallons at Corona Del Mar) and employs more than 15 employees. They consist of one Superintendent, one Treatment Supervisor, one Chief Operator, two Water Treatment Operator Specialists, one Senior Office Specialist and 10 Grade 3 Operators. Cater has a policy of having qualified personnel on duty 24 hours a day. Operators now learn maintenance skills and maintenance personnel learn how to do operations. The Grand Jury found, that despite being 10 years older, Cater seemed to be in excellent condition and much better maintained than Corona Del Mar. When SCADA is installed, there is a plan where four or five hours may be left to automated monitoring, but there are no intentions to cut back staff.

GWD Finances

The Goleta Water District is currently investing over $9 million to replace facilities that are starting to age after decades of service. Besides the construction at Corona Del Mar, the Los Carneros Reservoir project will cost about $6 million. The Grand Jury examined GWD’s financial statements[1] for FY 1998 and FY 1999 in order to assess whether these activities will permit the District to hire more operating personnel for Corona Del Mar.

Three factors were considered:

The GWD had a net income of $6.1 million in 1998 and $3.5 million in 1999. Several income and expense items which are one time affairs are deducted in order to obtain a basic appraisal of the financial picture:

  1. The 1998 income included $5.8 million in connection fees which were partially due to the Bacara Hotel project. Connection fees in 1999 of about $0.5 million are more typical.
  2. The 1999 income included Central Coast Water Authority refund of $2 million.

Thus the 1998 basic net income was about $0.8 million and the 1999 basic net income was $1.5 million.

A positive net income is all that the GWD needs to have because it is a not-for-profit agency. It can even operate at a zero net income level because future capital improvement is financially covered by depreciation reserves, although because of inflation, positive net income is required to feed a reserve fund for capital improvements.

GWD’s depreciation and amortization was about $1.8 million in the two fiscal years. Its property, plant and equipment (non-depreciated portion) is valued at $41 million. Its depreciation rate has an overall 4.4 percent depreciation rate, implying a 23 year service life for its properties. This service life is reasonable, considering that most GWD property is in pipe mains, tank structures, etc.

The Goleta Water District seems to be in excellent condition, because its working capital was $18.6 million in 1998 and $23.3 million in 1999. With a basic net income of $1.5 million for F Y 1999 and with the most recent interim unaudited financial statement indicating a net income of $1.07 million for eight months ending Feb. 28, 2000[2], the GJ concluded that the GWD is in a good position to begin some staff expansion at the treatment plant.

Assuming that the combined salary and fringe benefit package for a Grade 3 operator would be approximately $70,000 to $80,000, the GWD could afford to hire several operators to replace the security guards and give Corona Del Mar a round-the-clock professional care that it needs.

CONCLUSION

The 1999 - 2000 Grand Jury investigated a list of complaints concerning the Goleta Water District. Lack of observation may have allowed inappropriate behavior to occur at the workplace, but the introduction of a comprehensive Personnel Policies Manual on Aug. 23, 1999 and its enforcement have addressed this problem. The Grand Jury was also made aware of an acute shortage of staff at the Corona Del Mar Water Treatment Plant. After investigating GWD's finances, the GJ concluded that the District can afford to hire additional qualified personnel to provide the plant the maintenance it deserves, safeguard the quality of potable water that it delivers to its customers and better prepare it for emergencies.

COMMENDATION

The Grand Jury commends the Goleta Water District for instituting a comprehensive set of improvements at Corona Del Mar that will modernize it and enable it to continue to meet stricter regulations in the future.

FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

Finding 1: The Grand Jury found instances of inappropriate personnel behavior at GWD and an unusually high turnover in the first 10 months of 1999. However, the problems were resolved by management and a Personnel Policies Manual was issued.

Recommendation 1: The Grand Jury recommends vigilance by management in enforcing its own personnel rules and regulations so that these problems do not recur.

Finding 2: There is a chronic, acute shortage of staff at Corona Del Mar. Upon reviewing the finances of the District, the GJ found it to be in excellent financial health. Recommendation 2: The Grand Jury recommends an expansion of qualified operational staff. This will extend maintenance beyond the eight hours it now has, protect the capital investment the District has made, relieve stress on its overworked staff, and assure that its customers get the best potable water it can deliver.

AFFECTED AGENCIES

Goleta Water District General Manager, Management Staff
Finding 1
Recommendation 1

Goleta Water District Board of Directors
Finding 2
Recommendation 2

EXHIBIT A

GOLETA WATER DISTRICT
Physical Facilities

Map of local area wells, reservoirs, and booster pumps of the Goleta Water District

 

[1] Goleta Water District and Affiliate, June 30, 1999 and 1998 Financial Statements. Bartlett, Pringle and Wolf, Certified Public Accountants and Consultants.

[2] Memorandum to Eric Ford, Administrative Manager. From Kimbel, Redmile, Accounting and Information Systems Supervisor, March 15, 2000. Subject: Financial Statement