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Clean Water Isn't Free
June 2008 | by Henry Abarbanel


The good news? Our regional water quality is improving. The bad news? Progress in this area is not cheap. Continuing improvement will be costly, but at least we can ensure that the financial burden is fairly distributed.

Over the past seven years the State of California through its regional water-quality boards has begun implementing the Federal Clean Water Act. Few citizens disapprove of clean water, but equally rare are the citizens who are aware how they are paying for it.

With no funds to implement the excellent program of inspections, diversions of used water from flowing directly into the ocean, and the like that actually have improved the quality of our water, the State turned to its usual source of “makeup” funding: the cities and counties of California. Since the State's rules hold sway over local government, rules were established that carry fines as large as $10,000 daily for failing to comply.

For Del Mar, and all other cities in California , this has meant enormous new expenses at a time when revenues are challenged and other, often local, expenditures are rising. In the coming 2008/9 fiscal year, Del Mar is mandated to spend about $500,000 on actions implementing the new clean-water rules. This amounts to about 5% of our general expenditure budget.

We do not have a realistic choice whether to spend these funds. We do have a realistic choice how to collect them from ourselves, and there are two real choices: (1) collect them based on the amount of water your household uses, or (2) collect them based on the County's assessed valuation of your property.

This year we have an opportunity to vote on this choice.

In choice (1), which I freely admit I favor, your use of water determines how much you will pay of these required clean-water fees. You can change your water-use habits and change the amount you will pay. You are in control, and the charges are connected to a real question: How much water do you use?

In choice (2), which I think is unfair, your property value determines how much you pay for clean water. If you have been in Del Mar a long time, you will pay very little. If you have been here ten years or less, guess what? You get to subsidize clean water for others.

I have been here nearly 26 years (and am totally glad I moved here), and I could vote for others to subsidize my clean-water program. However, I will not do that as Del Mar's deepest strength is working together as a community, not as a collection of selfish individuals.

Please join me in voting this year to collect our clean-water program fees based on our utility bills, so they correlate with water use. It is fair; it is the Del Mar way.


Henry Abarbanel is a city council member.



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