It’s no secret California has a water crisis. Even idyllic Southern California isn’t immune to the widespread effects of the drought. However, in this time of extreme difficulty, South Orange County’s Moulton Niguel Water District is forging ahead with a focus on partnership, conservation, and service. The District is developing and updating planning documents for infrastructure management, financial stability, water resources, and water shortage contingency plans in a comprehensive manner to use a strategic guide for the future needs of the District’s customers.
“We’re taking all the great work that’s been done throughout the history of this District and building on that to give us a roadmap for the future,” General Manager Joone Lopez said. “We’ve done really well over the years and have an outstanding financial position, but we know there are a lot of challenges ahead. To address these future challenges, it’s important to plan thoroughly and communicate effectively with the communities and customers we serve.”
Open Channels of Communication
Outreach is a major part of Moulton Niguel’s operating strategy. “We work hard to maintain our relationship with our customers and surrounding agencies and share with everyone what we’re doing and getting feedback from them,” Lopez said. “I think that also sets us apart. We’re committed to building partnerships and working together as a region to collaborate on ideas and projects. The personal relationship that we built with various entities in our region has allowed us to pull resources together to provide services in the most cost effective manner.”
The District believes in meeting people where they are, rather than having people come to them. Be it out in the community, at council meetings, via its website, or its bill insert, the District is working to actively engage its customers.
One of the challenges Moulton Niguel faces is getting people to truly appreciate the value of water, and hopes its outreach efforts will help people understand the vital importance of conservation.
Moulton Niguel is also working to facilitate regional partnerships with nearby agencies and the 5 different cities the District serves.
“We have worked hard to develop strong partnerships with all our local agencies and create a unified approach to meeting the water needs of not only our service area, but also the needs of the region and California. We are meeting with multiple agencies through various forums to discuss and address critical water supply, operational, and regulatory issues that affect everyone here in South Orange County and the state” Lopez said.
One such project it’s collaborating on is the 28 million gallon per day Baker Water Treatment Plant, which will be completed in 2016. Along with 4 other water agencies, Moulton Niguel will be a major stakeholder in this water treatment facility in Lake Forest, California, which will increase local reliability and extend the District’s ability to serve its customers with adequate water supplies during emergency situations.
Stepping Up Conservation
Emergency situations may come sooner rather than later, though, due to California’s crippling drought. Lopez feels that Moulton Niguel’s forward-thinking policies put them in a good position to handle the crisis.
“For many years, the District has been proactive—and even visionary—in our conservation efforts,” she said. “We provide rebate incentives for various programs and devices, and have for many years. We also have recently implemented an allocation-based rate structure that’s fairly progressive, which we call our Water Budget Based Rate Structure.”
This proactive rate structure takes several factors into account to customize a water budget for each individual customer based on their own water needs. Using more water means rates are paid in a higher tier, which is allowed, and the money goes toward water efficiency, conservation and reliability efforts within the community. It’s a rate structure the State of California is becoming increasingly interested in, as it incentivizes using water efficiently on a sustained basis.
Although Moulton Niguel has been a leader in the development of an extensive recycled water system that provides nearly 25 percent of its water needs, the District is stepping up its recycled water efforts, complete with a forthcoming long-range master plan that will maximize recycled water use in the region and minimize dependence on imported water supplies.
In addition to more long-range planning, the District is thinking short-term as well. “We’re expanding our recycled water efforts as we speak and helping all our customers to realize how they can conserve,” Lopez said.
She also believes that successfully managing the drought requires a bigger conversation.
“We’re engaging with statewide agencies just to have a dialogue about water concerns and drought emergencies since it’s not just something that happens in one part of the state,” Lopez said. “We wanted to have a much more collaborative discussion on how to move forward, because the drought will continue and drought will happen again.”
“Leading the Way in Service”
What’s most important to Moulton Niguel, though, is that it provides the best possible service to its 165,000 customers, whether the state’s in crisis or not. The District’s slogan, “Leading the Way in Service,” is something it aims to practice and improve on daily.
“We take service as the most important aspect of what we do,” Lopez said. “The people we have in this organization are—in my opinion—what makes our agency the best. They take great care and pride in their work as illustrated by numerous compliments from our customers. Seeing them in action and hearing from our customers continues to reinforce our commitment to service.”
Lopez believes that no matter what, the customers come first. “Sometimes we forget that,” she admits. “We get stuck in the grind of what we’re doing. But to value service, and take great pride in the level of excellence in customer service we provide, that’s what’s unique about our District and that’s why we have that slogan. We see ourselves as being leaders in that regard.”