By Don Ridenhour, Hollister Free Lance, 8/8/14
The San Benito County Grand Jury has performed a tremendous service to county residents by highlighting the benefits of the Hollister Urban Area Water Project (HUAWP) in its 2013-2014 report. As the “Watchdogs of the Community,” the Grand Jury is a neutral, non-partisan group of citizens who are responsible for investigating public agencies and organizations and determine if they are operating in the best interests of San Benito County as a whole. We applaud the effort involved in producing the entire report and appreciate the time and energy it demands.
One of the subjects of this year’s Grand Jury report was the Sunnyslope County Water District (SSCWD), which is one of the members of the HUAWP, a partnership with the City of Hollister and the San Benito County Water District. The Grand Jury found that SSCWD’s improvements to the Ridgemark Wastewater Treatment Plant were in the best interests of the district’s ratepayers and was the most viable option.
As part of its investigation into SSCWD, the Grand Jury also found that the HUAWP is on track in its efforts to improve local water quality, ensure economic stability and contribute to a better quality of life for the entire community. The report states: “In reviewing HUAWP, it ensures access to high quality water, by adding more surface water to the mix, thus reinforcing the reliability and availability of water for the economic vitality of all residents. It does this while simultaneously making it possible to reduce the salt concentration in our ground water. This is a very important achievement if realized.”
That achievement is currently being realized. Improvements to the Lessalt Water Treatment Plant are on schedule to be completed in November, to be followed by construction of the West Hills Water Treatment Plant. Together, these projects will improve water quality for drinking water customers, protect the groundwater basin and help meet wastewater discharge requirements.
The Grand Jury did not overlook the issue of the costs and benefits of the project. The report notes that “The only real discussion is whether the benefits justify the costs. To be sure, only time will tell.” But its authors also acknowledge that “while other communities may have lower rates in the short term, the inevitable will happen. They too will need to increase their capacity or improve their water quality. This is an expensive and immutable reality.” On the whole, the Grand Jury’s findings concluded that “the merits of the HUAWP are substantial and, in the view of the Grand Jury, necessary.”
It is gratifying as water managers to have the support of the Grand Jury. We know that raising rates is never a popular notion, and we appreciate the economic challenges we all face. As public agencies, we strive to be fiscally responsible. But as the Grand Jury report points out, maintaining and protecting our water quality “is an expensive and immutable reality.” We remain committed to our mission to deliver high-quality water that will ensure our economic stability and contribute to a better quality of life for our entire community.
For more information about the HUAWP, visit www.hollisterwaterproject.com
Don Ridenhour is the General Manager of the Sunnyslope County Water District.