Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Lake Whatcom Water & Sewer: Want Fries With That?

A few days before April Fool's Day the Herald ran an announcement about a decision made by the Lake Whatcom Water & Sewer District [formerly Water District 10/WD10] that it had decided to purchase the former site of BURGER ME! on Lakeway Drive to use as its administrative office.
Since the District's earlier idea of building a new $5 million admin palace had fallen far afoul of its customers, this new $1.4 million idea was expected to be viewed as preferable; whether it is remains to be seen.

But, with the District's history of denial about any accelerated degradation happening in our Reservoir, it's consistent undermining of effective mitigation by local jurisdictions, its refusal to bear any of these costs or pass them on to its customers, and its reluctance to meaningfully change any of its outdated procedures for accepting new customers, or for maintaining its facilities,
WD10 remains a distant, poor cousin in the family of citizens who are very concerned about the future health of Lake Whatcom, and the enormous costs of impacts that are not avoided.

As a junior special purpose district, WD10 seems only focused on its longstanding mission of business as usual, even though changes to Lake run-off patterns and quantities are certainly NOT USUAL.
That is a problem with such 'special purpose districts'; they think they are so special that they need not be guided by common sense and cooperation with other jurisdictions.
Just elect a few hacks as Commissioners, hire a manager that will do only as told, and stay on the good side of development interests and bargain-hunting customers. A pretty simple formula designed to deliver a simple result- even though circumstances often produce distinctively UN-simple conditions.

I do remember -vividly- the unholy war that WD10 waged when the Lake Whatcom Land Preservation surcharge was enacted by the City Council back in the year 2000! Why, one would think the world as we know it was coming to an end!
Now, a $5 per month water surcharge is a fairly steep charge, and one that can rightfully be termed as 'regressive' I suppose if one is more into philosophy.
But if collecting these funds and using them to good effect SAVES big money in future years, then what's the beef [more on this later]?
WD10's beef was they resented being 'taxed' by another jurisdiction, even the City - their main provider of water & sewer!
They also resented having their rates raised 50% more than the City, in direct proportion to their actual -contractual- costs.
When those new rates were made to stand, WD10 took the action to minimize the amount of drinking water purchased from the City and use their own production instead -a reasonable thing to do, and also one that did not use up the City's capacity prematurely.

It seems that many years ago, the City and WD10 signed Inter-local Agreements that specified the quantities of water and sewer the City would provide.
That was seen as a responsible thing to do, and one that makes sense both economically and in the interest of public health.
After all, it makes little sense to build separate facilities where single, larger ones are already in place.
And, in the case of sewage treatment, only the City has a discharge permit; WD10 being limited to septic systems which leak and fail with maddening frequency -right into our drinking water supply.
Is that smart?

When these Inter-local were conceived and first signed they were assumed to be in perpetuity, with use on demand.
In hindsight, this wasn't entirely a good idea, because it did not anticipate the type of changing conditions that have occurred, nor the escalating costs or need for smarter development practices.
But, these Inter-locals did give WD10 what it simply needed to do as a special purpose district; simply provide water and sewer to every customer who asked for it.
I haven't researched the Water District's customer statistics, but over the years they have likely attracted several thousand customers -all situated outside City limits.
The most recent estimates I've seen indicate that about 2500 new potential customers may eventually ask WD10 for water and sewer services, which they are seemingly bound to grant.
Hey, nothing wrong with new customers is there?
Isn't that how we pay for facilities and staff while keeping rates low?
After all, we've already got locks on a certain amount of City water and sewer services.

Now, back to 'what's the beef':
Does it strike anyone as ironic that WD10- with maybe a maximum of 2500 new potential customers- would pick a vacant former fast food joint as its admin headquarters?
One conjures MacDonald's signs that brag about 'over 99 Billion sold'.
Or, Burger King's 'have it your way'
Or, Wendy's 'Waaay better than fast food'.
Or, BURGER ME!'s infamous triple cheeseburger on a Krispy Kreme doughnut!
Think instant heart attack!

Wonder what kind of catchy hats or uniforms the WD10 admin people will wear?
More importantly, is this the way a responsible Water District spends its money?
On a drive-in site on a busy thoroughfare?
And, what message might they display on the big BURGER ME! sign that now advertises 'flavor of the week frozen custard?
Will WD10 try to hurry folks to buy their water and sewer services while they last?
What else are they selling?