Developing Story: La Habra Heights Water District Explores Water Trafficking Deal with Rowland Heights

Special Water Board Meeting September 13, 2011

An Agreement in process suggests that the La Habra Heights County Water District Board may be voting to provide water which could help the proposed 3500 home Aera project, a project consistently opposed by the residents and multiple City Councils, and which a previous Council voted $50,000 to oppose.

Water has historically been the key to or roadblock to development.

In the September 15, 2011 La Habra Journal, Board President Brad Cooke is quoted saying, "... we have begun a couple of interesting negotiations with neighboring water companies."

At a Special 3:00 p.m. Meeting of the La Habra Heights County Water District Board on September 13th, the Board discussed final revisions to a water production and delivery agreement with Rowland Water District for supplying them with water via a new pipeline to be constructed on Fullerton Rd, north and east of East Rd.

Responding to a Board question about any concerns he may have, the Water District's Attorney said, "It's unusual for a small district to use almost half its capacity to serve another district."

The LHH Water District has spent millions of dollars in recent years upgrading the infrastructure and installing a 2 million gallon storage tank at the top of Skyline Drive. The reservoir was described in the Water District 2005 Master Plan as being needed for providing water to residents for emergency storage and for fires. Providing or delivering water to neighboring districts was not disclosed to residents and ratepayers.

In fact, several times during the meeting the possibility of a resident challenging the agreement was brought up, with the District's Attorney saying a potential problem could be, "some resident being concerned about the district using capacity for some other agency."

It was implied during the discussion that the LHH Water District will make a profit on the water delivery.

The Board voted 5-0 to approve changes to the Agreement and move forward.

Watch Board Meeting Excerpts

Rowland Water District

Rowland Water District serves about 13,000 customers in Rowland Heights and Hacienda Heights including large industrial accounts in the City of Industry. They get almost all their potable water from the Colorado River and State Water Project via the Metropolitan Water District. MWD water is among the most expensive sources. This source has become limited in recent years with drought and water pumping restrictions due to the Delta Smelt fish. They have been expanding recycled water infrastructure which provides non-potable water.

Water for 3500 Home Aera Development

State Law requires a developer to prove that sufficient water capacity exists to serve a project before a project can be approved.

In 2007, Rowland Water District completed a study showing it would be able to provide water to the 3000 acre, 3500 homes & Commercial AERA Development east of Harbor Blvd, using MWD sources and installing recycled water.

Location of proposed Aera Development
Harbor Blvd in LHH on left, part of Aera land on right

However, by 2008 a Rowland Water District Certificate of Participation filing for a Recycled Water Project stated the need for alternative water supplies, "to increase water supply reliability and offset future cost increases."

The Aera project has not progressed and was supposed to go to Los Angeles County Planning to seek development approvals.

Water Supply Projects Through La Habra Heights

In a June 2011 Regulatory Filing, Rowland Water District identified two alternative water projects, both going through La Habra Heights.

Potable Water Production and Delivery
from Cal Domestic Water Company

(CDWC) to RWD.
• Construct a booster station at existing CDWC property in the
City of La Habra, East Whittier Blvd., between Shelburne Street
and Palm Street.
• Construct an additional booster station at abandoned Old
Fullerton Rd. and Harbor Blvd. in the City of La Habra Heights.
• Construct a pipeline from the booster station at CDWC property
to the second pump station, continuing north on Harbor Blvd. to
the RWD facilities at Harbor and Pathfinder.

Potable Water Production and Delivery
from La Habra Heights County Water

District to RWD.
Construct a pipeline in Old Fullerton Rd. from East Rd. in the City
of La Habra Heights to RWD facilities at Old Fullerton and Harbor.

According to City Staff, only preliminary inquiries have been made at the city public works office and City Officials have not been informed about the water projects.

Additional water supplies allow additional development, whether Aera, commercial developments in Rowland Heights and Industry, or high density housing. All will likely create additional traffic and delay La Habra Heights residents wherever they go.

It is unclear why La Habra Heights Water District Board members would want to directly or indirectly facilitate development surrounding the City.

"Under the Radar"

The Water District has made no outreach to the Community to see if they want their water supply infrastructure used in this manner. The District has no website, holds meetings in the afternoon when most residents are unable to attend, and does not televise those meetings.

There has been no mention of the proposed agreement and use of customer-paid-for facilities in the District's Bill insert newsletter.

Nor has the Improvement Association written about it in the Heights Life even though the spouse of the Height's Life Editor serves as a Director on both the Water Board and Improvement Association Board.

Just Selected Board Member Mark Perumean being sworn in, December 15, 2009

At a December 2009 Public Meeting to choose a replacement Water Board Director, candidates were asked if they thought meetings should be televised. Those who said "No" received a positive response from the Board, and the Board did choose a candidate who opposed televising the meetings and also questioned why his picture was being taken.

Rest of City Opposes Aera

Official Results of 2002 City Survey

Results of a 2002 Citywide survey for the General Plan showed 70% of residents wanted the City to oppose the Aera development.

All members of the current City Council have stated opposition to the Aera Development.

The importance of stopping the project was so great that the City contributed $50,000, and became a member of HOSEC (Hillside Open Space Education Committee) along with Whittier, Brea, La Habra and Rowland Heights, to educate the communities to oppose and stop the Aera Development.

The La Habra Heights City Council also opposed the proposed widening of Harbor Blvd to six lanes, which would have impacted the remaining rural character of the area and induced growth and urban sprawl.

It is not known if the Council will oppose use of City Rights of Way for the growth inducing new water lines, which could also help open up the area east of Harbor Blvd in the City for commerical or high density residential.

What You Can Do

The Water District Board will meet September 27, 2011 at their headquarters next to City Hall. We will post the agenda and time when it is available. The Board meets in a back room not readily visible. Just say that you want to attend the Board meeting and they will let you in.

Opportunity for Public Comment in favor of or against the Agreement will be available.

More Information to Follow

A Public Records Request for additional information about the Water District Agreement has not been filled as of this writing. An inquiry at Rowland Water District was unproductive both in person and on the phone, with a respnse that no one in the office would know anything about it and the only person who would know was said to be out on both days an inquiry was made. A written request was then submitted.

The story will be updated as more details come in.

Water Board Election

Three seats on the Water Board are up for election on November 8th. Current members Pam McVicar and Mark Perumean, both initially selected for their seats by other Board members, as well as member Robert Wilson are running.

In an odd twist of fate, Judy Hathaway-Francis chose to run at the last minute, concerned that no one else was running and there would be no election.

Hathaway-Francis, a Heights Councilmember for 13 years, was known as the only stalwart opposition on the Council to the proposal to turn Powder Canyon into a large housing development in the early 1990's. She voted in favor of it going to a vote of the residents. Ms. Hathaway-Francis has been a consistent supporter of open space and opposes the Aera project.

One vote would still not be enough if the Water Board voted to supply water that could be used for the Aera project, and that decision would have to be overturned by a referendum, lawsuit, or recall of other Board members.

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